With police at the door, knowledge of your legal rights and good judgment can help you through the situation. The first rule is to listen. The police may be looking for information that has nothing to do with you or the police may be warning the neighborhood concerning a threat in the area. Some people have the practice of opening a door with a gun in hand or close by. Although you may have a legal right to do so, this is not an advisable practice when the police are at your door.
The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure is contained in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches of private property. The Fourth Amendment requires that warrants be issued only on probable cause. The place to be searched must be described and the person or thing to be seized must also be described with particularity. .
If the police have a search warrant or an arrest warrant, they will let you know immediately. If the police do not have a warrant or see evidence of a crime, they have no more right to be on your property or to access your home than any other person.
Often the police will ask to search your home or other areas of your property. They may use the old line if you have nothing to hide, you will let us look. Do not be intimidated. Say no. It has nothing to do with having anything to hide. Unless the police have a warrant or emergency circumstances exist, you have a right to privacy in your home and owe no explanation to the police.
Assert your legal rights, but be respectful. If you do not want the police on your property say, “Please leave my property.” The police may counter and say they will return with a search warrant. They may do just that. However, you lose nothing by requiring the police to produce a search warrant. Moreover, law enforcement officers often say it will be easier on you if you let them look instead of requiring a warrant. Again, do not be intimidated. If the police had probable cause to get a warrant, they probably would have done so before they approached your house. Regardless of whether you are a citizen or non-citizen, you have the right to exclude the police from your residence, unless they have a warrant or exigent circumstances exist.
The police can enter your house without a search warrant when exigent circumstances exist. Exigent circumstances mean an emergency exists and the police do not have time to get a warrant. (See the following link for a more detailed explanation of exigent circumstances http://www.lectlaw.com/def/e063.htm.) One example of exigent circumstances would be a person being physically assaulted when evidence of the assault is apparent from the exterior of the house or apartment. In such an instance, the police can enter a home without a warrant.
If the police enter your home without a warrant, do not physically attack the police. The entry may be illegal and arguably, the resident of the house has the right to physically resist an illegal entry. However, when dealing with the police, resistance is not a smart approach. First, the police may have a valid reason to enter without a warrant. In such a case, the person who offers physical resistance to the police will face additional charges. Second, if exigent circumstances do not exist and the police make an illegal entry, nothing is gained by fighting with the police. Keep your wits about you and do not lose your temper. The courts are the best place to settle the issue.
If the police make an illegal entry, record as much as you can. As soon as possible, write down what occurred. When the police enter a house without a warrant, the police must justify in court why they took such an extraordinary measure. Evidence the police seized in an illegal entry can be suppressed in court. The record you make during and after the entry may provide the information your attorney needs to suppress any evidence the police found.
The place to fight the police is in court. Consequently, tell the police you are not consenting to any search of your house, but do not physically resist them.
IF THE POLICE HAVE A SEARCH WARRANT
If the police have a warrant, they can enter the building that is specified in the warrant. Moreover, the warrant must also state what the police can seize. For example, if the warrant authorizes the police to seize a desktop computer, the police cannot search through your mail, medicine cabinet, or other places the computer could obviously not be located.
When the police have a warrant, allow them to enter the areas the warrant grants them access to enter. Record, if possible, what the police do. Follow the police officers’ directions concerning where they want you to sit and go. This could be a safety issue. However, do not volunteer any information or answer any questions. Tell the police you want to talk with an attorney before you answer any questions.
Warrants can be challenged in court. An experienced criminal defense attorney will investigate the legality of the warrant. If the warrant was not issued according to the law, the evidence seized can be suppressed.
DO’S AND DON’TS
With police at the door, your best bet is to follow these do’s and don’ts. Do maintain your poise. Do exercise your right to remain silent. If possible, record what the police do. Write down what occurred. Do not offer physical resistance to the police. Do not give them permission to search. Do not make any statements. Do call an attorney as soon as possible. The place to fight is in court.