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Search and seizure in criminal investigations: flawed procedures

Do IRS special agents follow proper procedures when they seize evidence as part of a criminal investigation?

A recent report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found that in many cases they do not. In this post, we will take note of TIGTA's finding.

Special agents for the Criminal Investigation (CI) division of the IRS generally have the authority to use warrants for search or seizure as part of their jobs. TIGTA initiated an audit, however, to assess whether the CI was processing warrants appropriately and maintaining sufficient security on the evidence obtained through them.

There was a bit of a tug-of-war between TIGTA and the CI division regarding access to closed case files involving search and seizure. CI management declined to provide numerous files sought by TIGTA.

CI asserted that these files were still included in continuing investigations, were under court seal, or allowed access to sensitive grand jury evidence. As a result, TIGTA's ability to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the CI's handling of search warrants was substantially limited.

But TIGTA did obtain enough information from the CI to conclude that the CI was falling short in its respect for taxpayer rights in the search warrant process. For example, many search warrants failed to include signed affidavits or had other errors.

TIGTA's audit also documented problems with the chain of custody of evidence obtained by CI through searches and seizures.

Overall, this episode serves as a reminder of how the IRS can fall short in its respect for taxpayer rights. As we noted in our June 18 post, it is good when the IRS promises its commitment to a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. But it is another thing to actually deliver on that promise.

Source: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Press Release, "Improvements Are Needed to Ensure That the Search and Seizure Warrant Process Is Adequately Documented and That Evidence Is Properly Secured," Nov. 4, 2014

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