15 Sep 23

How to Challenge an IRS Search Warrant or Summons

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Last Updated on: 16th September 2023, 10:16 pm

How to Challenge an IRS Search Warrant or Summons

Dealing with the IRS can be intimidating. If you receive a summons or search warrant from the IRS, it’s important to know your rights and options. This article will walk through the key things to understand when challenging an IRS search warrant or summons.

What is an IRS Summons?

An IRS summons is a legal order for you to provide information or records to the IRS. This could include financial statements, bank records, or testimony. Summonses allow the IRS to gather information to determine if there are any tax issues or liabilities.

There are different types of IRS summonses[1]:

  • IRS administrative summons – Used during an audit or investigation to obtain records and testimony.
  • IRS third-party summons – Sent to banks, employers, or others who may have information about your finances.
  • IRS John Doe summons – Seeks information about an unknown taxpayer the IRS suspects may have broken tax laws.

In most cases, the IRS administrative summons is used. This is when the IRS is examining your tax returns and wants documentation to verify items on your returns.

What is an IRS Search Warrant?

An IRS search warrant allows the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) division to search a home or business and seize evidence. Search warrants are obtained when the IRS suspects serious criminal violations of tax law, such as tax evasion or filing false returns.

To get a search warrant, IRS criminal investigators must demonstrate probable cause to a federal judge. This means showing evidence that indicates a crime has likely been committed.

Reasons the IRS Uses Summonses and Search Warrants

There are a few common reasons why the IRS may issue a summons or search warrant[2]:

  • To verify items reported on your tax return during an audit, such as business expenses or charitable donations.
  • To investigate when income is suspected to be underreported.
  • To examine records from foreign bank accounts or assets.
  • To look into potential criminal violations of tax law.

In short, summonses and search warrants allow the IRS to gather the information and evidence needed to determine if tax laws have been broken.

Should You Comply with an IRS Summons?

In most cases, it’s wise to comply with an IRS summons. If you don’t, the IRS can take you to court to enforce the summons. Ignoring a summons can lead to fines or even imprisonment for contempt of court. There are very limited reasons under the law to quash or fight an IRS summons.

However, this doesn’t mean you must comply immediately. You may be able to negotiate aspects of the summons, such as the timing or scope of documents requested. Consulting with a tax attorney can help you understand your options.

How to Respond to an IRS Search Warrant

If your home or business is searched by IRS criminal investigators, your best move is to cooperate within the parameters of the search warrant. Interfering with a search warrant can lead to obstruction charges.

That said, there are still steps you can take to protect your rights[3]:

  • Ask to see the warrant and read it carefully.
  • Note which areas the agents are allowed to search.
  • Observe what items are seized as evidence.
  • Politely state you do not consent to the search if you object.
  • Contact an attorney as soon as possible.

While the warrant must be followed, an attorney can help ensure your rights are protected throughout the process.

How to Challenge an IRS Summons

There are limited grounds under the law to challenge an IRS summons. These include:

  • The information requested is protected by privilege, such as attorney-client privilege.
  • The IRS already has the requested information.
  • The IRS is abusing the summons process.
  • The summons seeks information unrelated to a legitimate investigation.

To fight a summons in court, you must file a petition to quash the summons. This petition argues the summons is improper or unconstitutional. You may need to appear in court and prove the summons should be quashed. Negotiating with the IRS directly often resolves summons disputes more quickly.

File a Petition to Quash

To file a petition to quash, follow these steps:

  1. Consult with a tax attorney experienced with summons cases.
  2. Have your attorney draft the petition detailing the legal arguments.
  3. File the petition in the U.S. District Court in the jurisdiction where you reside.
  4. Serve copies to the IRS agent who issued the summons.
  5. The court will schedule a hearing to consider the petition.

It’s critical to meet all deadlines and follow proper procedures when filing to quash an IRS summons. Missing deadlines can cause the petition to be rejected.

Negotiate with the IRS

Rather than battling in court, often the best approach is negotiating directly with the IRS. For example:

  • Ask for a meeting with the IRS agent to discuss the summons. Explain why certain records may be irrelevant or overly broad.
  • Request more time to comply. For instance, ask for 90 days rather than the 21 days typically allowed.
  • Offer alternatives, like providing summaries or limited portions of records.
  • Argue the records are protected by attorney-client or other privilege.
  • Point out records that would be unduly burdensome to produce.

The IRS may agree to modify the summons to make it more reasonable. This could include allowing more time, narrowing the scope, or withdrawing it altogether. Negotiating requires understanding the IRS’s position and finding compromise.

If negotiations fail, you can still pursue filing a petition to quash. This puts the dispute before a judge. However, trying to work it out directly with the IRS first is often faster and less expensive.

Enlist Help from a Tax Attorney

Consulting a tax attorney experienced with IRS summons cases is highly recommended. An attorney can:

  • Advise if you have valid grounds to challenge the summons.
  • Handle negotiations with the IRS on your behalf.
  • Draft the petition to quash if needed.
  • Represent you in court hearings.

Navigating IRS summons disputes requires understanding complex tax laws and court procedures. A qualified tax attorney can protect your rights and interests throughout the process.

How to Challenge an IRS Search Warrant

Challenging an IRS criminal search warrant is difficult but may be possible in certain situations by filing a motion in court. Possible grounds to challenge a search warrant include:

  • The warrant affidavit contained false or misleading information.
  • The warrant was overly broad or vague.
  • Evidence was seized outside the scope of the warrant.
  • Evidence was mishandled or tampered with.

An attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence, arguing it was obtained improperly and should be excluded from the case. The judge will hold a hearing to evaluate the merits of the challenge.

Alternatively, if items were seized that you believe are privileged or unrelated to the investigation, you can petition the court for their return. However, most challenges to an IRS search warrant face an uphill legal battle.

Steps to Challenge a Search Warrant

If you wish to fight an IRS search warrant, take these steps:

  1. Consult with a criminal tax attorney as soon as possible after the search.
  2. Review the search warrant affidavit for any potential issues.
  3. Identify improper conduct or procedural errors by the IRS agents.
  4. Have your attorney file a motion outlining the legal arguments.
  5. Argue your motion at the court hearing.

While challenging a search warrant is difficult, an experienced attorney may identify arguments that could result in evidence being suppressed or returned.

The Bottom Line

Receiving an IRS summons or search warrant can be unsettling. But understanding your rights and options is key. In most cases, cooperating with the IRS while protecting privileged information is advisable. For support navigating the process, consult with a qualified tax attorney.