As Confucius once said, “the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”
In the US, private residences are granted a high level of protection against intrusion by the Fourth Amendment.Click To Tweet
The Fourth Amendment protects homes from unreasonable searches and seizures, reading:
“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, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Under this important amendment, law enforcement agencies are barred from searching your home—regardless of whether you live in a mansion, apartment, boat, tent, or hotel room—with a few exceptions.
Below, we’ve listed the situations where you may be required by law to allow a cop into your home:
If they have a search warrant. A police officer can search your home if they have a search warrant that gives them permission to do so. To obtain a warrant to search your home, police must convince a judge that they have probable cause to believe criminal activity is occurring inside or important criminal evidence may be found there. The warrant should include specific information on the exact place to search, what materials they can seize, and at what time.
Remember—the police can only search the location and seize the items specified in the warrant. If they have a warrant to search your car, for instance, they can’t lawfully search your home. If the warrant allows them to seize drugs, they cannot seize your computer.
After an arrest. If you are arrested for a crime, the police may lawfully search you for important items such as weapons and evidence under immediate threat of destruction.
In addition, the police may lawfully conduct a protective sweep of your home after arresting you if they have probable cause that dangerous accomplices may be inside. If there is any incriminating evidence in plain view, the police may lawfully seize this evidence during the sweep.
If they are rescuing someone. The police may be able to lawfully enter your home if they have reasonable cause to believe that a person inside your house needs immediate assistance. For instance, they could enter your home if they think they need to help someone inside who is seriously injured, or to protect someone who is under attack.
If there is a threat to officer or public safety. Police officers are not required to delay their investigation by waiting to obtain a warrant if doing so would endanger their own lives or the lives of other people.
If there is immediate threat of destruction of evidence. If a police officer believes there is important evidence in your home that you or someone else may destroy, they may force you to let them into your home.
When You Don’t Have to Let the Police into Your Home
While it’s important to be aware of situations where the police can legally enter your home, it is perhaps even more vital that you understand the situations in which you are allowed to lawfully refuse.
If the police show up on your doorstep and request permission to search your home, you are perfectly within your rights to deny their request. In fact, it’s highly advisable to do so—if you voluntarily give your consent, police officers are legally allowed to enter your home and search all of your property.
The police may not tell you that you have a right to refuse a search, or they may attempt to convince you that things may go smoother or they may go easier on you if you allow them to search. However, you should never give your consent to a search without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
If an officer asks to search your home, ask for a warrant. If they cannot show you one, politely tell them that you do not consent to a search. Do not try to physically stop them if they force their way into your home anyway. Instead, stay calm, and watch them closely, taking careful note on what they search and what items they take.
Your next step should be to contact a seasoned and aggressive criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you determine whether their search was unlawful, and help you demonstrate this in court. If the court finds that the search and seizure was illegal, any evidence the police found during the search will be declared invalid.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.