The Police Are At My Door
When can the police enter your home?
When police officers have search warrant or an arrest warrant, they do not need permission to enter your home. That said, they are required by law to “knock and announce” and wait for the homeowner to answer the door. However, when there is a warrant, police are only required to wait a reasonable period of time before forcing entry.
Even without a warrant, there are many circumstances in which police may enter a home and search the premises. This includes:
When there is reason to believe a person inside may be in imminent danger (due to criminal activity or because of medical needs).
When illegal activity or contraband (i.e. drugs) are in “plain view”; this could be through a window or because the homeowner opened the door in response to police knocking. Sometimes an officer will be let in upon consent of the homeowner (“mind if we come in to speak with you?”) and then while inside notice something illegal in plain view.
When there is probable cause to believe entry will uncover criminal activity or contraband. Examples include hearing screams for help or smelling marijuana.
When there are exigent circumstances. This is an extension of probable cause that allows the officers to enter because they believe that the time needed to get a warrant could result in the suspect escaping or evidence being destroyed.
Your rights and how to reduce risk to yourself
You should not invite the officer into your house. Talk with the officers through the door and ask them to show you identification. You do not have to let them in unless they can show you a warrant signed by a judicial officer that lists your address as a place to be searched or that has your name on it as the subject of an arrest warrant.
Consider using the new Siri shortcut “I’m getting pulled over”. It will dim your phone, pause any music being played, and start recording video from your front-facing camera. It can also send your current location and a copy of that video to an emergency contact, though you’ll need to confirm a few pop-up messages to complete these steps.
Ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can read it. A search warrant allows police to enter the address listed on the warrant, but officers can only search the areas and for the items listed. An arrest warrant has the name of the person to be arrested.
Even if officers have a warrant, you have the right to remain silent. You should not answer questions or speak to the officers while they are in your house conducting their search. Stand silently and observe what they do, where they go, and what they take. Write down everything you observed as soon as you can.
When your rights have been violated
Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.
File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.
How to be a responsible bystander If you are a guest inside the house and end up answering the door, you should make clear to the police that you are a guest and do not have the authority to let them inside without the homeowner’s permission.