Your home is your safe place and your sanctuary. You deserve to have basic privacy within your own space. For many Americans, the idea of an unwarranted search of their home is repugnant. However, it happens more often than people would like to think. Law enforcement often depend on people not understanding their rights to gain entry to a home and find incriminating evidence.
In order to protect yourself from illegal searches of your home, you need to know your rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, citizens should have protection from unreasonable search and seizure. There are certain best practices that law enforcement need to follow to legally enter your home. Understanding when it is legal for law enforcement to enter your home and when it isn’t can help you stand up for your own rights in uncomfortable situations.
Police can come in when you let them
The number one way that law enforcement get into private residences is by asking for entry. Most people want to keep the police happy, so they open the door. Even if you haven’t been breaking the law, it’s easy for law enforcement to find a reason to keep searching once they’re inside. If they see something that could be illegal among your possessions, your whole house could end up searched. Anything they find will end up as evidence against you.
While it can be scary to say “no,” to police, you have every right to do so. If they request to speak with you, remember that you have the right to refuse to answer questions without a lawyer present. You can politely step outside of the home and invoke your rights. If you completely refuse to communicate with them, they could return with a warrant.
Police can come in when they witness a crime
If an officer is chasing a suspect and that person climbs into a home through the window, law enforcement can pursue the suspect inside. Similarly, if an officer hears a gunshot or see a crime through a window, he or she has probable cause to enter a home without permission or a warrant. Screaming, signs of illegal drugs and certain smells can also be enough reason to enter.
It’s important to note that destroying evidence is a crime. If law enforcement hear something that they believe could be destroying evidence, like a paper shredder or even a toilet flushing, that could be enough reason to enter your home. If law enforcement knock on your door with a request for entry and no warrant, household sounds, like movies or even computer games playing in the background, could give them reason to enter.