“sneak and peek” search | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Procedural Law

A “sneak and peek” search, also known as a covert entry search or delayed notice search, is a law enforcement search in which officers enter a location without the owner’s knowledge or consent and delay notification of the search warrant.

The “sneak and peek” search has become a controversial issue in recent years, with some arguing that it is a necessary tool for law enforcement to combat terrorism and other serious crimes, while others argue that it is a violation of civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In a typical “sneak and peek” search, law enforcement officers will obtain a search warrant from a judge, allowing them to enter a home or other location to search for evidence of a crime. However, instead of immediately notifying the occupants of the search, officers will delay notification for a period of time, typically a few days to a few weeks. During this time, officers may search the premises, gather evidence, and conduct surveillance without the occupants’ knowledge.

Proponents of “sneak and peek” searches argue that they are a necessary tool for law enforcement to prevent potential criminal activity and protect national security. They point to cases such as the 9/11 attacks and other acts of terrorism as evidence of the need for law enforcement to be able to act quickly and decisively to prevent similar attacks in the future.

Critics of “sneak and peek” searches, on the other hand, argue that they violate the Fourth Amendment‘s protections against right unreasonable searches, as well as the right to due process. They argue that such searches are unnecessary and that law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant and provide notification of the search in a timely manner.

The legality of “sneak and peek” searches has been the subject of much debate and legal action in recent years. In 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act expanded law enforcement’s ability to conduct “sneak and peek” searches in certain circumstances, such as cases involving national security or terrorism. However, the Act also included a sunset provision, which required the provision to be reauthorized by Congress every few years.

In 2015, the USA FREEDOM Act was passed, which reauthorized certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including those related to “sneak and peek” searches, but with additional oversight and reporting requirements. The Act requires law enforcement to provide a report to Congress each year detailing the number of “sneak and peek” searches conducted, as well as the reasons for the searches and the crimes involved.

In conclusion, “sneak and peek” searches remain a controversial issue in the criminal justice system. While proponents argue that they are necessary for law enforcement to combat serious crimes and protect national security, critics argue that they are a violation of civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment. The legal framework surrounding “sneak and peek” searches continues to evolve, as lawmakers and courts seek to balance the need for law enforcement tools with the protection of individual rights.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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