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Local Use of Sneak and Peek Warrants a Problematic Trend

Did you know that the police could enter and search your home when you’re not there — and you may never know about it? A type of search warrant designed to aid in federal anti-terrorism investigations allows investigators covertly search your property without notice, and to cover up any evidence of the search afterward.

The warrants are supposed to be restricted to federal authorities, but recent news coverage shows that Columbus police have been employing these “sneak and peek” warrants despite the existence of no Ohio law that allows their use.

“Sneak and peek” warrants were authorized under the USA Patriot Act in 2001 as a tool to combat terrorism by allowing law enforcement agencies with probable cause to obtain a warrant to search someone’s home without notifying them. The warrants also are known as “delayed notice” warrants. Once a sneak and peek warrant is obtained by the law enforcement agency, officers can enter private premises or a vehicle to conduct a search in secrecy when the premises or vehicle is unoccupied. The officers then are allowed to take steps to cover their tracks. In some examples, officers have staged a burglary scene after executing a sneak and peek warrant.

However, the use of sneak and peek warrants wasn’t limited to anti-terrorism investigations in the USA Patriot Act. The warrants can be used in the investigation of any federal crime, including misdemeanors.

A 2010 report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that the number of sneak and peek warrants being granted in Ohio was on the rise, with more warrants being granted each year in the Southern District of Ohio — which includes Columbus and Franklin County — than the Northern District. The vast majority of sneak and peek warrants granted were used in drug investigations. The smallest numbers of warrants granted were related to terrorism investigations.

Although they’re supposed to be for investigating federal crimes, the warrants have been used by local police investigators, who sought the warrants in Franklin County courts while investigating a suspected drug-money courier. However, the issuance of sneak and peek warrants by Franklin County courts has come under fire recently because there’s nothing in Ohio law that authorizes use of the warrants by other than federal authorities.

Franklin County Prosecutor Rob O’Brien told the Columbus Dispatch that his office would not recommend use of the warrants, and the Columbus Police Division’s legal adviser told the Dispatch that federal authorities should be the ones to obtain and oversee sneak and peek warrants.

If you’ve been arrested for a crime based on a search, the experienced Columbus criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates can help. Call us at for a free consultation today.

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