We’ve all seen those crime shows where the police storm into a home and start making aggressive arrests, or when outraged residents declare that the officers may not enter without a warrant, sufficiently turning police away. Are either scenarios lawful? What aspects of these exemplary scenes are accurate, if any, and what does the law have to say about searching a person’s home?
According to the Fourth Amendment, U.S. citizens are protected from unreasonable intrusion, or “search and seizure” into their homes or businesses. In a situation where an officer wants to search the property or home of an individual, the officer must have one of the following things:
- A valid search warrant
- A valid arrest warrant for a person in the home or on the property
- Probably cause to believe a crime has been committed on the property
- Permission to enter, given by the person in charge of the home or business
- An emergency situation
In the case of a property search, an emergency situation includes any circumstances where there is a threat to the evidence inside the home or business, or the safety of the public is in danger. For example, if there is a house fire and people inside the home are in danger, the officers may enter the dwelling. It is also legal for an officer to search a home if they see contraband “in plain sight.”
In an attempt to benefit from this last rule, officers will often knock on the door of the home they wish to search, speaking with the person in charge in order to glimpse inside the home. The officer is trying to gain information, and also hoping to see something that would allow them entrance. This is called “knock and talk.” For example, if an officer knocks on the door, he may see a bag of cocaine on the table, giving him lawful cause to enter the home.
Defining probable cause is usually the most difficult aspect in these cases, as the line can sometimes be blurred. Probable cause exists if the officer has reason to believe a crime was committed at that place, or has seen evidence that a crime occurred there, based on known facts and circumstances. It may be used to secure a warrant, if the officer signs a statement citing probable cause, which will lead a judge to issue a warrant. Or, an officer may search a home without a warrant if he or she sees probable cause for a search.
There are plenty of situations when a search is not lawful, and in that event, the evidence obtained during the unlawful search may not be used against you. A search could be considered unlawful if an officer violated your right to a “legitimate expectation of privacy,” or what could be considered a reasonable expectancy of privacy regarding the property, according to our society.
The most important thing to remember in regards to property searches, is that unless the police have a warrant or probable cause, you are within your rights to respectfully refuse entrance.
Some situations are trickier than others, and sometimes a search may prove unlawful without you in ways you hadn’t considered. If you have had your home searched, contact our firm to get answers to your legal questions. A Brad Bailey Law, we are committed to defending the rights of our clients, and have provided legal counsel for numerous cases during our 33 years of practice.
Contact Brad Bailey Law to discuss your legal needs.