First of all, it’s important to understand there are many types of law enforcers. These most commonly include police officers, FBI agents, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents, along with others. All these officers are enforcers of the law and preventers of crime. Even so, you are not always required to open the door to law enforcement. If a law enforcer does not present a warrant (usually either search, criminal, arrest, or detention), you do not need to let them in your home. Your 4th Amendment right under the United States constitution states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” In practice, this requires the law enforcer to get a signed warrant from a judge to legally enter and search your property if they do not have your permission to enter.
If you give consent to a law enforcer to enter your property, they may do so. Once the law enforcer is in your home, any illegal items that are in plain view could be taken into custody as evidence, which could lead to an arrest. A tip from Walther Goss Law would be to keep any “private items” that you don’t want others to see out of view of your windows and entrances.
Tips to keep in mind:
- Figure out who is at your door prior to opening it. Look through your window or use your peep hole and, ask through the door for the person to identify themselves. If it is a law enforcer, they should be able to show proof with a badge. Generally, officers must identify themselves and their purpose prior to attempting to enter your home, but certain warrants may allow the officers to enter your home without this warning. Further, in certain circumstances, officers may enter your home if they have a warrant and have not received any response.
- Figure out the reason for the visit. Again, law enforcers are here to protect us and more often than not their visits will be harmless. For example, they could be notifying the community of recent crimes in the area, or asking if you have seen any suspicious activity. Although it can be alarming, it is generally recommended to figure out why the law enforcer came to your home. If they are looking for a certain person, ask for the name and date of birth of the person that they are looking for. Remember to respond cordially and not aggressively as the officers are doing their job.
- If the law enforcer does not have a warrant, you can ask to meet with them outside your home.
- You can ignore the law enforcer at your door completely if no one inside the home needs assistance and the officer does not have a warrant.
- Remember to keep all interactions polite and brief. Do not escalate the situation.
- If a law enforcer comes to your door and it’s not a “friendly” visit, stay silent and contact Walther Goss Law immediately. We will be able to tell you if it’s necessary to schedule a consultation with an attorney.
- Educate your family and friends. Law enforcers should always be respected and again are usually here to protect us. It is also important to remember that you also have rights. If you find yourself in a situation where there is an officer at your door, be cautious, remember your constitutional rights and ensure they are protected. After the encounter, if you have additional questions or if you need legal representation, contact our office to meet with one of our attorneys.