The freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure of your property is one of the most basic rights you have as an American. That is why it is in the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, if people do not understand the way that the modern courts and law enforcement officers interpret the Fourth Amendment as it applies to their house or residence, they may fail to stand up for themselves when confronted with law enforcement at their door.
Changes to the law or its interpretation can also impact your rights. Knowing when police can search your home and when you have the right to refuse can help you advocate for yourself.
Police usually depend on you to invite them inside
Many times when people wind up arrested for something police officers find in their house, the law enforcement officers that search the property came inside because the owner invited them in.
People may invite police inside due to a sense of social obligation. They don’t want to be rude by saying no. However, once the police are in your house, if they spot anything that they considered probable cause or evidence of a potential crime, they can continue searching.
If you have roommates or other people who live in your house, they might also give officers permission to enter the home. Police could then search any shared spaces or open rooms unless you are there at the time that police arrive to object to the search.
Police can search when they have a warrant
Obviously, law enforcement officers can search your home when they have an official, signed warrant from a judge authorizing them to enter your property and search certain areas or for specific people or items.
Most search warrants have a limited scope. That is why you should ask to review the search warrant before allowing entry to your home. Ensuring that it is signed, that it has the proper address and that it includes specific objectives is important to validating the warrant. If it is incomplete, you can potentially deny entry into your home. The same is true if there are inaccuracies or errors on the warrant.
Police can enter if there is a crime in progress
Police officers can enter your home at any time if they believe a crime is underway. For example, if they chase someone from the scene of a robbery or a drug crime and they witness that person enter your property, they can continue to pursue onto your property or even into your home.
If they hear someone screaming for help or gunshots, that can also give them reason to demand entry. Even certain smells might provide officers with a reason to enter your home without permission or a warrant.
If you have any reason to believe that police conducted an illegal search of your property, you should consider speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can review the details of the circumstances involved in your interaction with police and determine if officers did, in fact, violate your rights.