In any major U.S. city, a determined police officer can be an intimidating sight. If a cop shows up at your door, it’s only natural to feel like you have to let him or her inside—after all, it’s a police officer. Maybe they make you feel safe, or maybe they just shock you into agreeing. Whatever your initial reaction, there is one critical thing that you must remember if a police officer shows up at your door: your constitutional rights.
While there are exceptions to this rule (we’ll get to those in a second), for the most part, it is illegal for a police officer to enter your home without a search warrant.
Know Your Rights
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects you from “unlawful search and seizure.” In this case, that means a police officer cannot enter your home without a warrant.
This rule extends universally. Whether or not cops themselves abide by it is sometimes a different story, but if you do not consent to cops’ entry and they come into your house anyway, they are breaking the law.
The only times a police officer can enter your home without a warrant are:
- If you consent; or
- If they are in “hot pursuit” and are actively following a suspect that is directly in your home
Unless either of the above two points apply, if a police officer shows up at your doorstep without a warrant, you are not obligated to allow them entry. And don’t worry—by refusing entry, you will not be resisting arrest or impeding an investigation, you will merely be exercising your rights.
What is a Warrant?
In order for police officers to legally enter a person’s home, it is usually necessary that they first obtain a warrant from the court. Typically, there are two types of warrants:
- An arrest warrant will grant permission to the police officers to arrest the person named in the arrest. It will also grant permission for officers to search that person as well as his or her immediate surrounding area.
- A search warrant will grant permission to police officers to search whatever area is identified in the warrant. This can include entire homes, yards, and additional spaces.
In order to obtain a warrant, a police officer must demonstrate to a judge that he or she has reason to believe that a crime has occurred or that evidence linked to a crime will be found on your property. A judge or magistrate must approve this application for a warrant.
Police officers may try to enter your home for a number of reasons—they may suspect that they’ll find evidence to link you to a serious crime, they may be following up on a tip that there are drugs or illegal weapons in your home, or they may just be suspicious of you. But without either a warrant or your consent (or in the unlikely event of a police emergency that happens to be taking place in your backyard), police officers are not allowed to enter your home.
Do Not Be A Victim of Unlawful Search and Seizure
Still, just because it is illegal for cops to enter your home without a warrant doesn’t mean that they never do it. But if you know—and exercise—your rights, you may be able to fight back against whatever charges result from that unlawful entry.
If you’re facing a charge that came about as a result of illegal search and seizure, do not allow yourself to be victimized by police officers who broke the law. Fight back by calling our law offices today.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.