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What to do if the Police show up at your Home

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A video posted online over the weekend shows police officers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama apparently responding to a noise disturbance and subsequently using physical force, including batons and tasers, to subdue several people at a residence. This video shows an altercation with police gone horribly wrong:

Whenever you encounter the police, remember your rights. The police are there to protect and serve, but often times individuals can become targeted by law enforcement agents or unintentionally waive their rights. Even if the police have acted incorrectly, the courtroom may be the best place for your argument. Before an encounter even occurs, here's what you need to know about the rights you have while interacting with a police officer at your home.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states as follows:

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.

Tennessee Constitution Article 7 states as follows:

That the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures; and that general warrants, whereby an officer may be commanded to search suspected places, without evidence of the fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, whose offences are not particularly described and supported by evidence, are dangerous to liberty and ought not to be granted.

Police Encounter Scenario

Let's imagine you are at home and suddenly there is a knock at the door. You aren't expecting anyone. You walk over and hear "Good afternoon, it's the police. Would you mind opening the door?" This is an investigative technique used by the police often called a "knock and talk." It is a voluntary and consensual interaction between you and the officers. You can say yes, no, or nothing at all. But opening the door and speaking with police officers could lead them to attempt to gain entry into your residence.

Privacy Protections

Your home is your castle, and of all the privacy protections afforded by the 4th Amendment, no zone is more clearly defined that an individual's home. As a general rule, the police need a warrant before they can enter and search your home. For a warrant, a law enforcement agent must swear an affidavit attesting to specific and articulable acts that make him or her believe an offense has been committed, and a Judge must find probable cause exists that such offense took place. The warrant must be very specific and must state exactly where the search will take place, and what items or persons are going to be seized.

When a Warrant is Not Needed

If the police do not have a warrant to search your home, these are certain circumstances under which the police may enter and search your home.

  1. Consent. If you are the homeowner or renter and the police ask to search your residence and you agree, they can search your home without a warrant. Once consent is given, anything found in your home can be used against you and you cannot challenge the legality of the search.
  2. Exigent Circumstances. These are situations in which the courts have found there is not enough time to obtain a warrant, such as when someone is in immediate danger of harm, when the destruction of evidence is imminent, or when the police are in hot pursuit of someone from a public area.

What Should I Do if the Police Arrive at My House?

Back to the above scenario: you hear a knock, you aren't expecting anyone, and you hear, "Good afternoon, it's the police. Would you mind opening the door?" You have several options at this point.

Inviting Officers Into Your Home

Let's say you want to open the door and speak with the officers. So you do, and they ask if they can come in and search your house. You think to yourself how you are a good citizen and how this will make the police officers happy so you say ok, and let them in. So they enter, walk around your house, look through your drawers and cabinets, under the couch, don't find anything, thank you for your time and leave. Or maybe they dig around and find a marijuana cigarette left in an ashtray by a friend. Maybe they find something much worse and now you are in the back of the police cruiser on the way to booking with a felony charge and thousands of dollars in legal fees hanging over your head. You need to stop and ask yourself, what is there to gain by letting the police search your house? There is nothing to gain.

Stepping Outside to Speak with Officers

If you are comfortable speaking to the police, but nonetheless want to protect the privacy of your home, you can always step outside to speak with the police. If you step outside, remember to close the door behind you. If the police officers are able to see anything of an incriminating nature they are able to seize that property under the "Plain View Doctrine" and charge you with whatever offense it may be.

If you do not want to open your door, but want to speak with the police, you can always speak to them through your door. It may feel weird, but at least no one gets arrested.

Suggested Steps to Follow:

Here are some steps to follow if you are wanting to protect your privacy as much as possible when encountering the police at your home. If the police show up at your home unexpected wanting to speak with you, do not open the door. Ask them through the door whether they have a warrant.

If they do not have a warrant, do not let them into your house. Do not answer any questions or say anything other than "I don't want to talk to you."

If they say they have a warrant, go outside onto the porch and close the door behind you. Do not let them in the house and do not answer questions. Look at the paper and make sure it is a warrant signed by a judge. If you are not the person on the warrant, tell them it is not you. If you have valid identification, you can show it to the police to prove you are not that person. If you are the person on the warrant, or it is your address, you have to let the officers into your house. Say you don't want to talk to them and you want a lawyer. Watch them search your home and make sure they restrict the search to the area specified in the warrant. Try to keep written notes about where the officers searched and what they seized. Don't argue with them. If they search outside the specified area you can argue your case in court.

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