A police officer may enter your home to conduct a search if: they have a valid search warrant, if they have probable cause (i.e. they witnesses a crime in person, or they believe a crime is about to be committed, and/or they observe some form of contraband in “plain view”), if a person gives their verbal consent to search their home, or if you happen to be arrested while at home. Some police detectives wear plain clothes, but most police officers wear uniforms. If someone knocks on your door claiming to be the police in street clothes, it is advisable not to open the door. Ask to see their badge and a search warrant. If they are unable to present a valid search warrant or proper authority that would grant them entry into your home, you have no legal obligation to let them enter.
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.