ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A special type of government search warrant that allows authorities to search homes without informing the owner for months is becoming more common, Target 7 has learned.
Imagine someone walking through your neighborhood, coming into your home and rifling through your intimate belongings.
“(They) search through your home, your dresser drawers, your computer files,” Peter Simonson, with ACLU New Mexico, said.
These search warrants don’t involve knocking on doors or any type of warning at all. Delayed-notice search warrants, or “sneak-and-peek” warrants, allow federal agents to enter your home without telling you they’ve been there until months later.
The warrants have always been around, but their use has spiked since the revamped Patriot Act in 2005. The number of delayed-notice search warrants spiked nationally from nearly 700 in fiscal year 2007 to close to 2,000 in 2009.
Upwards of 200 approved during that same three-year stretch came out of the 10th Circuit Court, which covers a handful of states including New Mexico. The majority of those delayed search warrants aren’t even for terrorism-related cases. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s figures, the majority of the warrants are for drug cases.
“While billed as an anti-terror tool, (a sneak-and-peek warrant) had no requirements on it that it precluded it from being used in standard criminal investigations,” Simonson said.
The warrants are so secret that the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office wouldn’t go on record with Target 7 about them.
The ACLU said it expects delayed-notice warrant numbers to keep growing each year as long as certain parts of the Patriot Act remain on the books.