There are two scenarios where police may be at your door. Either they have a valid search warrant, or they are attempting to do what is referred to as a “knock and talk.”
“Knock and Talk”
The first scenario is one in which the police arrive at your home, knock on the front door, and ask to speak with you, an investigative technique known as a “knock and talk.” The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”ii In general, police must obtain a search warrant before conducting a search of a home or residence. *However, federal law does not require police to obtain a search warrant to conduct a knock and talk.
Can You Say No to the Police (if they are doing a “knock and talk”)?
Let’s make something clear: if the police ask to come inside your home or ask to search your home without a valid search warrant, you can AND SHOULD SAY ABSOLUTELY NO. Period. End of story. It is highly advisable not to let the police in at any time unless you have called them yourself. Once you invite an officer inside, any illegal activity or item they can plainly see/hear/smell is seizable. If the officer asks to look inside anything, always politely decline. Never consent to the deprivation of your rights.
Absent having a warrant, a police officer must have “exigent circumstances” to justify entering someone’s premises. This may be the case if they get a phone call with information that someone inside may be injured in some form or fashion.Regardless, the United States Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that an individual has a heightened expectation of privacy in their home. Therefore, generally speaking, police need a search warrant to enter.
If the police do have a valid search warrant that specifically lists your address and home as the premises to be searched, then they can enter and conduct the search. Police can only enter, however, and search your home WITHOUT a warrant under limited conditions, such as:
- If you, or your roommate, provide verbal consent to a search;
- If the police officer witnesses contraband or illegal activity in plain sight, such as through an open door or window (i.e. weapons, possible violence, drugs, etc.);
- If you have been arrested based on “probable cause” or a warrant at your home, the officer has the authority to search you and your home for contraband, weapons, and any other possible illegal activity
- If there is an emergency; such as chasing a felon that enters into someone’s residence, medical emergencies, domestic violence (or physical violence, where an officer hears noise from the premises indicating an individual may be in danger.