The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that police can’t just stop and frisk you while you’re walking down the street or barge into your home any time they want to look for evidence of a crime. However, that doesn’t mean you have absolute privacy on your person or in your home. In today’s blog, we explain when police can legally enter your home to look for evidence of a crime.
When Can Police Come In My House?
The most formal way for police to gain entry to your home is by getting a warrant from a judge. These warrants need to be specific and can’t just say the police have “carte blanche” to search your entire property for anything they deem suspicious. Instead, the warrant must give specifics as to which areas of the residence can be searched, as well as a description of the items police are attempting to seize. Now, if police enter your home looking for drugs and come across illegal firearms, that can still be used against you in court, but if the warrant only allows entry of the house and police enter a detached garage or storage shed and find evidence, that may be inadmissible in court.
However, it’s worth noting that police can sometimes enter your home and look for evidence without a warrant. Those circumstances include:
Permission – Obviously, police can search any area of your property if you give them permission to search. While you may think nothing of allowing a search because you have nothing to hide, it’s still worth noting that it is absolutely your right to decline a search without the presence of a warrant. Don’t let police bully you into allowing a search with a statement like “If you have nothing to hide, this will be quick and we’ll be on our way.” You can easily respond with “My rights protect me against warrantless searches, so I’d be happy to allow a search if you obtain a warrant.” If you give police permission, they can search your property.
Plain Sight – If evidence of a crime is in plain sight, like in an open garage or through a window, they can enter the residence and collect evidence by arguing that it was clearly visible from outside the residence. They can also be inside the home and see this evidence in plain sight if they were responding for a different matter. For example, if your child dialed 911 as a prank and they arrived on scene and noticed drugs on the table when they arrived at the residence for a welfare check, that can be entered into evidence because it was in plain sight, even though police were responding to a different matter.
Exigent Circumstances – If police believe their is a high likelihood that crucial evidence may be destroyed in the time it would take to obtain a warrant, they may try to enter the residence and collect evidence while arguing “exigent circumstances.” If the process of obtaining a warrant would likely put the public in danger or lead to the destruction of evidence, police may legally enter without a warrant, but expect a challenge from the defense attorney.
Prior To An Arrest – If police are serving a warrant for an arrest at your home, they can legally search the property to protect their safety during the arrest process. For example, if they are arresting you on a domestic violence charge and they find flash drives containing child pornography during their search, you’ll be hit with additional charges even though police were not looking for this type of evidence when they were conducting the search incident to your arrest.