You’re entertaining friends in your living room when you hear a knock at the door. You peek through the window: it’s the cops, and they’re asking you to let them in. What do you do? Are you legally required to open the door? What if the officer claims they only want to talk to you – are you required to say something? Can you ignore them, or will they break down your door?
You have a right to say no or not say anything if the police ask to come inside of your home or ask to search your home without a search warrant. You are under no obligation to speak to the police or open the door. It is not a crime to keep the door closed.
Here’s what you should know about your rights when the police come to your house:
- The police nearly always need a warrant to enter and search your home. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a person has the right to be secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means that unless an officer has a warrant, they generally cannot enter a person’s home. All police searches must be reasonable; unreasonable searches of your property are illegal and any evidence gathered during an unreasonable, illegal search cannot be used against you in a criminal case. Remember, if you open the door and invite the cops inside, you have consented to a search; the Fourth Amendment is there to remind the government that they cannot bust into people’s homes without an order from a judge, unless it is an emergency – anything the officer sees, hears, or smells is fair game! Even if you have nothing to hide, there is usually nothing to gain by allowing the police to search your home. The only thing it can do is potentially harm you – so don’t do it!
- You have the best protection inside your home against illegal & unreasonable police intrusions. You have a right to be secure in your own home and the police do not have the right to invade that privacy without a warrant. When the police are at your door, they cannot do more than any citizen can do. Staying inside your home is not obstruction of justice – it’s a constitutional right. Even if you feel comfortable speaking with police but still want to protect the sanctity of your home, you can always step outside – but remember to close the door. If the police see anything illegal inside your home while standing at your door, they can enter, search, and seize evidence or contraband in plain view and charge you with a crime.
- You do not have to open the door if the police do not have a warrant. You do not have to open the door unless it is an emergency, or the police officer can produce a search warrant. You also do not have to talk the police or answer any questions. If the officer is asking to enter and search your home, it is usually because the officer does not have enough evidence to secure a warrant. The best response to police who at your doorstep is to firmly and respectfully say: “I don't consent to the search and will not allow you to search my home unless you have a search warrant. I do not want to answer any of your questions until I have consulted with an attorney.”
- The police may enter your home if there are “exigent circumstances.” There are only two ways the police can enter your home: the first is if you give your consent, and the second is if there is an immediate emergency that reasonably requires the officer to enter the home without a warrant. An example of an exigent circumstance would be if a person within the house was being held hostage or threatened by someone the police believe is armed and dangerous and the police reasonably believe the search is necessary to protect life and prevent serious injury. The cops may also be allowed to enter a home to prevent the destruction of evidence or contraband. Another common exigent circumstance occurs in domestic violence cases wherein the police are responding to a 9-1-1 call of domestic violence and they need to enter the home to prevent serious injury.
- You can say no to the police. It is okay to say no to police who come to your home without a search warrant and want to search your home. Sometimes an officer's response to your refusal to search your home is met with improper or subtle threats such as “Well you don't want to be arrested, do you?” or “You don't want to obstruct justice, do you?” In short, the police are trying to obtain your consent because trying to get a search warrant may be difficult or time consuming. Either way, it is not your problem. Some law-abiding people may respond differently to a knock at the door by the police. They believe they have nothing to hide and should accommodate the police. The bottom line is there is nothing to gain, but everything to lose. Why? Let's assume you let the police in and while inside your home they get a whiff of marijuana. You allow them to go into your son's bedroom where they find a big stash of marijuana and a scale to weigh it. Your son comes home while the police are in your son's bedroom and he is immediately arrested for marijuana possession with intent to sell. Now you have a big problem! That is why you should never consent to a police search of your home without a valid warrant.
It is very important for citizens (and non-citizens, too) to know their rights and be willing to exercise them when dealing with law enforcement. If you are facing criminal charges resulting from evidence seized in an unlawful search, contact the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners for a no-cost, confidential consultation. Call our office at (213) 481-6811.