The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that people shall be free of unreasonable searches of their “persons, houses, papers, and effects” and that a warrant based upon probable cause must be issued in order to conduct such a search. Therefore, police typically need a warrant in order to search a home.
Don’t the Police Have to Knock Before They Enter My House?
Historically, police have been required to follow the “knock and announce” rule prior to conducting a search. This gives the home’s occupant a moment to compose themselves, like answering the door. But the "knock and announce" time can be shortened, if the police have reason to believe that evidence is being destroyed.
There is some debate as to how much time the police should give after knocking and prior to entering the house. Upon violation of the rule, evidence obtained would be from an illegal search, and the evidence would be excluded in court.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a violation of the “knock and announce” rule did not require evidence found in that search to be excluded at court. However, most states still have their own knock and announce rules, and can exclude the evidence. The Supreme Court’s ruling would apply only if the search was conducted by federal authorities.
Doesn’t the Constitution Protect Me from Unreasonable Searches?
Generally the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches by the police. However, a Supreme Court ruling in June 2006 makes unannounced searches reasonable under the Fourth, when the search is conducted by the federal government.
While unannounced searches conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant are constitutional in that context, the Fourth Amendment still protects you from unreasonable searches in many other ways.
Can Evidence Found During Unannounced Searches be Used as Evidence Against Me at a Trial?
Yes. In a search conducted by the federal authorities, this ruling prevents you from invoking the exclusionary rule, which prohibits evidence found in during an unconstitutional search from being used at trial. Because an unannounced search done pursuant to a valid search warrant is now constitutional, evidence found may be presented and used against you.
However, as stated above, knock and announce rules may vary from state to state. A recent controlling ruling applies mainly to searches conducted by the Federal government.
States are free to impose the exclusionary rule for state searches if they decide to do so. Check with a lawyer regarding your state’s knock and announce laws.
Do I have any Rights or Remedies if the Police Forcibly Enter My Home and Conduct a Search Unannounced?
Yes. While the Supreme Court has declared that the exclusionary rule may not be invoked to suppress evidence, they do allow you to sue the police under a civil rights or due process claim. Suing the police, however, will not be a defense against the evidence seized during the search.
Additionally, the Fourth Amendment protects you from any other part of the search that may have been conducted illegally. Read more about: What is an Illegal Search?
Can the Police Search My Home without a Warrant?
Sometimes; there are certain conditions where police can enter a residence without a warrant:
- A suspect is fleeing detainment and hides inside a home.
- Evidence is sitting in plain view of the entrance.
- All residents present give permission to the police to enter.
- Emergencies of any sort, such as a fire.
When Do the Police have to Present the Warrant?
Warrants are for the purposes of legal record-keeping and federal law does not require that police present the warrant. State laws may differ.
Police with a search warrant do not need consent, but if they ask for consent, you do not have to give it to them. It is illegal to resist or prevent the police from executing a warrant.
If the police conducted a search without your permission and you suspect they do not have a warrant, check with the courts and/or police station afterwards for the warrant. If it turns out the officers lied, you can have any evidence excluded from trial and/or bringing a lawsuit.
Remember that resisting the police before the search is not only illegal, but dangerous for all involved. Remedies for unreasonable police activity should be sought after the search is over.
Do I Need a Lawyer if the Police Conduct an Unannounced Search of My Home?
Yes. If the police conduct an unannounced search of your home based on a valid search warrant, you will likely need a criminal defense attorney to defend you from any charges that may stem from the search.
An attorney can also help you seek to suppress evidence if you feel that any other part of the search violated your Fourth Amendment rights. Your attorney will also be able to help you sue the police if you feel that your civil rights were violated.