Nothing can be more startling than having a police officer knocking on your door. We often feel a natural inclination to answer a police officer’s questions; after all, these officers are there to protect and serve us.
It’s important to keep in mind that if an officer is coming to speak with you about a criminal matter, he or she is acting in the capacity of an investigator. Often, a suspect is already in mind and that suspect may or may not be you. While the officer is investigating a situation, he or she may speak with potential suspects and witnesses without disclosing any information to them. The officer may also lie in his statements to a suspect about what information the officer has and who had given that information.
With all of that in mind, it has become the general wisdom not to talk to the police without an attorney present. Your attorney can speak with the officers and ask why they want to speak with you in the first place. But what if the officers come by your home unexpected?
It’s important to remember that police officers cannot come into your home without either (1) your consent or the consent of someone who the officer sees as having authority over the house, (2) a search warrant for the premises or an arrest warrant for a resident, or (3) other circumstances, such as an emergency, hot pursuit of a suspect, exigent circumstances, or plain view of a crime. So, practically, what does that mean you should do?
Do not be rude to the officers. The officer may say things along the lines of, “Well, if you have nothing to hide, why not let us look around?” It may be tempting to succumb to such questions, but remember that the officers are trained to speak with you in such a way as to induce you to let them in. You can tell the officer that you invoke your Fourth Amendment right and will not allow a search without a warrant.
Do Not Consent to Police Entry/Search of Your Home
By consenting to a warrantless search, you are effectively waiving your right to contest it in court later. In other words, if you allow the police officer to enter your home and look around, you are validating their basis for the search and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to throw out whatever evidence is found.
When the police come to the door, you do not have to open it. Through the door, you can ask them what they want and if they have a warrant. If they do not have a warrant, you can keep your door closed and tell them them that you do not wish to speak to them. If you do choose to talk to the officer (or if you had reported a crime and want to speak with the officers), step outside and close the door behind you. This shows that you are not allowing them entry or even a glimpse into your home.
If the officer has a warrant, ask them to slide the warrant under the door or step outside to take a look at it to make sure they have the correct address and/or person. If they do not, set them straight. If the warrant is for your home, let the officers in, but verbally state that but for the warrant, you are not consenting to the search of your home. If you do not let them in, they may break your lock or entire door down to get into the home.
“I have nothing to hide, so why shouldn’t I let the officers search my home?”
This is a common question posed by people who have done nothing wrong. However, there are several issues with this approach. First, you don’t know what the officer is searching for. If you are the officer’s prime suspect, even for a crime you did not commit, the officer may be looking for clues you may not realize. Second, you do not know what a friend, colleague, or family member who had been in your home may have inadvertently left there that may be attributed to you. Certainly, if you live with others, you do not know what items they have left around the home.
Can I withdraw my consent?
Yes. If you allowed the officers to come in, you can always say that you withdraw your consent and ask them to leave. You can also limit the scope of your consent. For example, if you allow the officers in to your home, you can explicitly tell them that they are limited to certain rooms or that certain areas are off limits. Remember, however, that they can seize evidence that is in plain view, so if they see something illegal through a cracked doorway, they may either seize it or get a warrant for your whole home.
What if the officer is coming in anyway or the officers have a warrant?
If the officer is coming in without a warrant, verbally and unequivocally state that you do not consent to a search. However, do not in any way interfere with the officers or try to physically block them in any way. Keep mental notes of what happens, and see if the officers will allow you to observe the search.
If the officers say they have a warrant, ask to see the warrant to make sure that they are at the right property. Again, regardless of whether the officers show you the warrant, do not interfere with what they do. That can be saved for court.
If you or a loved has been arrested or have had your home searched, we invite you to contact the Law Office of Maria Belyi for a free consultation. Please note that this post is not to be construed as legal advice, but is for informational purposes only.