Where the US government has seized private property pursuant to a search warrant in a criminal investigation, what would happen to that property if the President were to pardon the suspect(s) under investigation?

Must it be returned immediately (perhaps before investigators have had an opportunity to examine it), or could the investigators continue their examination unimpeded? To put it another way, does the pardoning of a suspect necessarily halt all investigative activity into the pardoned crimes and effectively nullify any extant search warrants?

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    If the evidence uncovered by the search implicated others who were not pardoned, investigators could continue pursuing those suspects. If the search uncovered evidence of state crimes, investigators could turn it over to state authorities for possible prosecution of the pardoned individual under state law. – phoog Apr 17 at 3:18
  • @phoog: but if the investigators had not yet had a chance to examine the evidence, they would not know whether any other party or any state crimes were implicated... – eggyal Apr 17 at 3:19
  • They will have examined it during the search at least to the extent necessary to decide whether to seize it. – phoog Apr 17 at 3:21
  • @phoog: which is unlikely to be sufficient to determine whether other parties or other crimes are implicated, certainly in the case of electronic documents? – eggyal Apr 17 at 3:23
up vote 2 down vote accepted
+50

If the item is contraband, it will not be returned. Despite the pardon, the item may also be subject to civil forfeiture (for example if the item is proceeds from a drug sale). The item may also be kept as evidence in a different criminal or civil case, either involving the accused person, or for the very same crime involving another party. There is one condition under which an item taken under a search warrant must be returned immediately, and that is if a competent judge orders the immediate return of the item, which would require the pardoned person to petition for release of the item (and that takes time). The warrant is still valid (assuming it was legal to start with), and a pardon does not render a search warrant illegal.

To put it another way, does the pardoning of a suspect necessarily halt all investigative activity into the pardoned crimes and effectively nullify any extant search warrants?

Necessarily halt all investigative activity?

No.

On a practical level, if there are no plausible remaining criminal targets, a pardon might make an investigation effectively meaningless, but it would still be up to prosecutors to make that determination, and to keep or return in the materials in accordance with their own policies and practices.

Even if the President pardoned one person (can we call him "Mike"?), prosecutors could still:

  1. Charge Mike with other federal crimes that weren't included in the pardon (unless it was a "blanket" pardon)
  2. Refer Mike to criminal prosecution for State-level offenses, if any are found
  3. Investigate related criminal matters of involved persons other than Mike
  4. Refer financial or business related anomalies to the appropriate agencies (IRS, FTC, etc.)
  5. Attempt to compel Mike to testify against other defendants (Mike's pardon renders moot his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination).

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