What It Takes to Get a Federal Search Warrant Like the One the FBI Executed at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home

·3 min read
Presidential Residences
Presidential Residences

Joe Raedle/Getty. Inset: Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Inset: Donald Trump.

To conduct its search of Donald Trump's home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Monday, the FBI had to be granted a federal search warrant.

What does it take to obtain a federal search warrant? And what does it say about the investigation being conducted by the federal agents who executed it?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unlawful searches and seizures by the government. To ensure the search is legal, the warrant, backed up by an affidavit, must be issued to the officer or agents conducting the investigation.

Law enforcement officials will request a search warrant if they're seeking documents, electronic devices — like phones or computers — or other items related to a criminal investigation if they believe those materials can be found at the home, office, car or other property of an individual.

RELATED: Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home Searched by FBI: 'The Mood Was Pure Shock'

A "neutral and detached" federal judge or magistrate would need to sign off on the warrant before it can be executed at a property. To get that approval, law enforcement officials must show probable cause for conducting the search. That means there should be reasonable information to support the possibility that evidence of illegality will be found during the search.

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But the issuing of a search warrant does not mean that the subject is guilty or even accused of a crime, as The New York Times points out.

The search conducted at Trump's home was part of the investigation into an alleged mishandling of White House records, including potentially classified materials, Politico, CNN, The Washington Post and other news outlets reported.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Elder Ordonez/Splash News Online The Trump family at a funeral home prior to Ivana Trump's memorial service

The Justice Manual, a guide to the Department of Justice's criminal procedures, states that a search warrant should not be used "unless it appears that the use of a subpoena, summons, request, or other less intrusive alternative means of obtaining the materials would substantially jeopardize the availability or usefulness of the materials sought."

In other words, the agents executing the search warrant convinced a judge or magistrate that they needed to go into the former president's home and search for the materials they were looking for rather than requesting them in some other way.

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The manual also states that a search warrant may be granted if other alternative ways of obtaining the materials "would be likely to result in the destruction, alteration, concealment, or transfer of the materials sought."

Considerations outlined in the manual for that aspect of obtaining a search warrant include: "Whether the possessor of the materials has previously acted to obstruct a criminal investigation or judicial proceeding or refused to comply with or acted in defiance of court orders" or "Whether the possessor has expressed an intent to destroy, conceal, alter, or transfer the materials."

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A warrant must also describe with "particularity" the location and nature of the search. This requirement is meant to prevent a law officer from using a warrant to conduct a search that goes beyond the parameters of their request. Put simply: Law enforcement officers should not search a location or individual that's not listed in the warrant.

The FBI's search Monday was focused on the office and personal quarters of the former president, CNN reported. Trump said in a statement Monday that the FBI agents at Mar-a-Lago "even broke into my safe!"