Do you need to open the door to police, or even speak to them? And can they come into your home? Here are some things to consider.
If one day the police show up at your door, what do you do? What can you do?
For many people, that can be a pretty stressful situation — especially considering that you may not know why they’re there in the first place.
There are many reasons why the police may be at your door, such as a wellness check, a neighborhood survey for information about a crime in the area, or responding to a 911 call. The reason matters. For example, if the police have a warrant, how you need to respond is very different than if they don’t.
“If they have a warrant, you have to open the door,” says civil rights attorney Riley H. Ross III. “If you don’t open the door, then they can take that door down and come into your home.”
But what if it’s a “knock and talk”? That is an investigative technique in which police knock on your door and request to enter your home or ask you questions in order to gain more information about a case. It is generally used if police believe you are involved in criminal conduct but don’t believe they have enough information to get a warrant, says David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
“Yes, the police have the right — not randomly, but pretty broadly — to do this ‘knock and talk’ if they’ve got some reason to think that the people inside are engaged in criminal conduct,” Rudovsky says. But just as they have that right, you have certain rights in the situation, too.
If you feel comfortable speaking with the police, that is an option. But if you don’t feel comfortable, you may wonder what your rights and obligations are in that situation.
Do you need to open the door to police, or even speak to them? And can they come into your home? Here are some things to consider:
Do I need to open my door if police knock?
Not always. If police have a warrant, or there are compelling conditions known as “exigent circumstances” (more on that later), you do. But if police are at your door for most other purposes, then police are “like anyone who knocks at your door,” and you’re not legally required to open up, says Jules Epstein, a professor of law and director of advocacy programs at the Temple University Beasley School of Law. That approach, Rudovsky adds, also likely applies to “any government official,” such as immigration officers or the FBI.
Ask why they are there. “Unless you called the police, or you think there’s some good reason why the police are there to help you — and you can certainly inquire — you don’t have to open your door,” Rudovsky says. “You can say, ‘What are you looking for? What do you want?’ and ‘I don’t need your help. Please go away.’”
If you do open the door, it may come with some risks, Rudovsky says. For police can seize illegal items and charge you for having them if they are in “plain view,” such as illegal drugs on a table that can be seen from the door, or if the officers are legally in your space.
If you feel scared in this situation, that is normal
Deciding what to do in the moment can be difficult — particularly for people of color, says Ebony White, an assistant clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions of Drexel University, whose research focuses on how individual and systemic racism impacts people, family, and communities of color. For many people of color, she says, seeing or dealing with police can create “a physiological response” because of the stress of the situation, as well as prolonged, collective trauma.
“There’s a mistrust of law enforcement by Black people, and within Black communities, because even though the model is often to serve and protect, we’ve witnessed in our communities a disruptive and violent presence,” White says. “For a long time, even though on the books we have rights, those rights haven’t been protected or respected.”
Still, she says, you should “do what you can to lean into your rights,” and stay present in the moment. Ross, meanwhile, says that the importance of asserting your rights — such as by declining to open the door — is “universal, especially in communities of color when there’s concern about your rights being violated.”
Do I have to speak to the police?
You generally are not required to speak with police. But there are things you can do to feel safer speaking with them, including:
Going outside to speak to them.
Speaking through the door.
The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, suggests speaking through a door, but only to ask if the officers have a warrant, or to decline speaking with them directly.
“You can tell them, ‘I don’t want to speak with you, and I’d like for you to get off of my property’ — and there’s nothing wrong with you saying that,” Ross says. “You could say whatever you like that conveys the fact that you don’t want to open the door.”
You can also choose to be silent and not interact because, as Ross puts it, “you don’t have to speak to the police,” and you have the right to remain silent. Ultimately, the choice depends on the circumstances of the situation, and how comfortable you feel with speaking to the authorities.
“I don’t see that [being silent] would constitute a crime if they don’t have a warrant to be in your home,” Ross says. “Now, here’s the other thing, though: You’ve got to be careful that you don’t do something that creates exigent circumstances. If all your lights are on, and you were just moving about, and [the police] knocked on the door, it could be something they use to build a case against you as to why they should come into the home.”
In deciding how to respond, White suggests that you “think about what your ultimate goal is,” and do what you think is appropriate to work toward achieving that goal. That is an important distinction for people of color, White says, because “there is a certain way in which we have to interact with the police” to keep situations from escalating.
“Is feeling respected your ultimate goal? Is being alive your ultimate goal? Is it feeling heard?” she asks. “For most of us, we want to be alive, and oftentimes that means doing what we can to comply and be perceived as nonthreatening.”
Do I have to let police in my house?
In many cases, no. The Fourth Amendment gives people the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” So, generally, in order to come in or search your home without your consent, police need to get a warrant — and if they don’t have one and ask for your consent to search instead, you can say no.
But if they do have a warrant, or exigent circumstances exist, it’s another story.
“When police knock and say they have a warrant, they have the right to come in. And if you don’t open the door, they may have the right to force the door open,” Epstein says. So, in that case, you need to answer in a reasonable amount of time — otherwise, they likely can kick your door in. But, the ACLU notes online, you do have the right to read the warrant.
What are exigent circumstances?
Exigent circumstances give the police the ability to enter your home with neither your consent nor a warrant in situations where getting a warrant would be impractical. While the definition can be complicated, generally, exigent circumstances are when police need to enter your home for a specific reason, including:
To prevent physical harm to the officers themselves or others.
To keep relevant evidence in a crime from being destroyed.
To prevent a suspect from escaping.
To continue the “hot pursuit” of a suspect.
This can sometimes be complicated, Rudovsky says, because in some cases police have “created that exigency” to go in. Generally, he adds, the Supreme Court has ruled that sometimes “exigencies are validly created,” and police can come in if your response “creates more suspicion,” he adds. That could mean continuous flushing of toilets (which may mean drug evidence being destroyed) or the sounds of people trying to get out a back window.
What if I feel like my rights have been violated?
If you feel your rights have been violated, or that you have been mistreated in an interaction with police at your home, there are steps you can take.
Document what happened. “The best things to do are document it while they are there, or immediately thereafter. Talk to neighbors and get their accounts immediately thereafter while it is fresh in people’s minds,” Epstein says. That can be done by filming with a cell phone, talking through what happened into a recording app, or simply writing the information down. The ACLU suggests taking down the names and badge numbers of any officers involved.
If you want to make a complaint. In Philadelphia, you can file a complaint with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, or the Police Advisory Commission (though that will soon be replaced by another entity). Epstein also suggests speaking with a city council member, a block captain, or a local religious leader to help organize your complaint and have your voice heard. And in some situations, legal action may also be appropriate.
White also suggests speaking with available community groups about your interaction, or, if there are none in your area, forming one. Counseling, she says, can also be helpful in maintaining “a semblance of sanity while going through this insanity.”
But what is not advisable if you feel your rights are being violated, Ross says, is resisting in the moment by force. If, for example, police are pushing in your door to come in with your consent, a warrant, or exigent circumstances, pushing back or physically resisting can result in a worse situation.
“You can assert your rights and say that an officer doesn’t have the right to come into your home, but just be careful not to do anything that’s going to lead to further problems for you,” Ross says. “Don’t hit the officer, because that’s going to result in assault. If they’re violating your rights, it’s something that is going to have to be worked out in court with a lawyer in order to right that wrong that they’re doing.”
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Riley H. Ross III, JD, civil rights attorney and partner at Philadelphia law firm Mincey Fitzpatrick Ross.
Ebony White, Ph.D., licensed professional counselor and assistant clinical professor at the College of Nursing and Health Professions of Drexel University.
David Rudovsky, JD, civil rights attorney and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
·Jules Epstein, JD, professor of law and director of advocacy programs at the Temple University Beasley School of Law.
Pretty sad that 3 officers, 1 lieutenant, AND the county attorney don’t understand a bench warrant for arrest is NOT a warrant to enter and search private property.
I’m in a civil rights case as I’m watching this video. Once again officers do not have the right to enter any property without a search warrant. A bench warrant is not a search warrant. I had to file a 1983 suit. Why because I was confronted by an overzealous person who has a badge and a sidearm that thinks he can do anything he wants.Just because you have a “arrest warrant” Doesn’t mean you have a search warrant. You have to physically witness the suspect enter the home. If not, they have no right to enter the house.
Hitting stop on someone else’s recording device should be treated as “destruction of property” and “suppression of evidence”.
Okay, so the lady they were looking for gave them the wrong name and dob. Yet they selectively “believe” her when she gave an address?!?!?! Stupid is as stupid does!!!
When he was on the phone with the supervisor, he even stated that the warrants were body only. Slam dunk lawsuit
The fact these cops can pick locks speaks volumes on who the real criminals are
I’m prior LEO…these cops, this department and the county attorney are complete idiots. The verbiage on the warrant is paramount. No search warrant means no entry. To do so is a blatant…BLATANT…disregard and violation of the 4th amendment. Laws vary from state to state, a little bit. But the Constitution does not. Plain and simple. This was a disgusting display of ignorance of the law in uniform. Disgusting!
I like how the police think it is obstruction to not let them in to your house without a search warrant. Shame on you Texas PD
When a supervisor of a cop tells that cop to “ Do what you need to do”, there is nothing going to happen by procedure and by the book! That is why qualified immunity needs to be gone
It seems like the sheriff’s deputies know that they can’t legally go in, but neither one is man enough to speak up. What this really boils down to is the cop wasn’t going to let someone he considers to be beneath him tell him NO.
There is NOTHING in that warrant that says he can pick locks to gain entry, and I don’t hate the police but this is ridculous8:15 “You have no legal right!” Officer: “You know how many times we have heard that?” The fact that he acknowledges that they are knowingly violating people’s Constitutional rights should be enough to throw out any type of immunity and state protections.These cops have been getting away with this for soooo looong that its natural to violate your Rights, skew the law and tell you anything without scrutiny and the judge will ignore any violation of the citizens Rights.OMG, a textbook example of illegal search and seizure. I hope he connects with a good civil rights lawyer.Why do cops have control of their body cams? They should record from the moment the officers shift starts till it ends. No muting no turning it off.Its hard to support the thin blue line when cops do as they please without regard for the law or any repercussions whatsoever.RICO charges for the cop, the Lt, the attorney and the judge. That cop with the lock picks deserves 20 years and that police department owes the home owner 5 million dollars for violating his civil rights. The county attorney deserves disbarred. We need some zero tolerance policies and mandatory sentencing for bad police work.I have 1 reason not to let them in. – They didn’t come prepared. Showing up with an arrest warrant does not give them my voluntary consent to search my home. There is a reason there is a difference between a SEARCH warrant and an ARREST warrant. Obstructing an illegal action should not be a criminal action.So I have a question. How does that officer have a right to pick the lock on that door for a bogus warrant?I’m a police officer. And all I’m literally yelling “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” as these officers violate the 4th amendmentThis is such a violation of this man’s rights and his property…TAKE IT TO FEDERAL COURT IMMEDIATELY! Have them help you fill out the paperwork.If you make under $55,000 a year an attorney will be assigned for FREE to help you fight this case!The girl could have more warrants than she has years of life. It’s absolutely irrelevant until you have the RIGHT warrant.This is the same officer that did an illegal search and violated the 4th on the same family before. He needs to be fired. We do not need his kind in law enforcement.Why would a cop stop his body cam????? because he is about to violate and or kill someone.I sincerely hope a lawyer with a conscience picks this one up and will fight for justice. When moral decline is so clearly present among those called to serve the community and uphold the law, there is very little hope for a society to thrive and prosper.
It was probably not Stone himself, but rather his electronic devices... the true target of Friday’s F.B.I. actions was not Mr. Stone himself, but his electronic devices.
Mr. Stone’s early-morning arrest at his Florida home unsurprisingly dominated coverage, but reports also noted that federal agents were “seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone’s apartment in Harlem, and his recording studio in South Florida was also raided.” The F.B.I., in other words, was executing search warrants, not just arrest warrants. Even the timing and manner of Mr. Stone’s arrest — at the absolute earliest moment allowed under federal rules of criminal procedure without persuading a judge to authorize an exceptional nighttime raid — suggests a concern with preventing destruction of evidence: Otherwise it would make little sense to send a dozen agents to arrest a man in his 60s before sunrise...the document places great emphasis on Mr. Stone’s denial that he had any written communications with two associates — associates with whom he had, in fact, regularly exchanged emails and text messages. That’s precisely the sort of behavior one might focus on in seeking to convince a recalcitrant judge that an investigative target could not be trusted to turn over documents in response to a subpoena, requiring the more intrusive step of seizing Mr. Stone’s devices directly...Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp — meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider... The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form — and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone’s own phones and laptops. And while Mr. Stone likely has limited value as a cooperating witness — it’s hard to put someone on the stand after charging them with lying to obstruct justice — the charges against him provide leverage in the event his cooperation is needed to unlock those devices by supplying a cryptographic passphrase.
Of course, Mr. Mueller is likely interested in his communications with Trump campaign officials, but the detailed charges filed against the Russian hackers alleged to have broken into the Democratic National Committee’s servers also show the special counsel’s keen interest in Mr. Stone’s communications with the hacker “Guccifer 2.0,” an identity said to have been used as a front for the Russian intruders. By Mr. Stone’s own admission, he had a brief exchange with “Guccifer” via private Twitter messages. On Mr. Stone’s account, Guccifer enthusiastically offered his assistance — at the same time we now know Mr. Stone was vigorously pursuing advance knowledge of what other embarrassing material stolen from Mr. Trump’s opponents might soon be released — and Mr. Stone failed to even dignify the offer with a reply. With no easy way of getting hold of “Guccifer’s” cellphone, searching Mr. Stone’s devices might be the only reliable way for the special counsel to discover whether the conversation in fact continued on a more “secure line.”
.. Yet if Mr. Mueller is indeed less interested in Mr. Stone than the potential evidence on his phones and computers, the conventional wisdom that the special counsel probe is wrapping up — and could issue a final report as soon as next month — seems awfully implausible. Digital forensics takes time, and a single device could easily hold many thousands of messages to sift through. And if this really is the first time Mr. Mueller’s office is seeing the most sensitive communications from a key figure like Mr. Stone, it’s likely they’ll come away with new leads to follow and new questions to pose to other witnesses.
We may ultimately look back on Mr. Stone’s arrest not as the beginning of the special counsel’s endgame, but the point when the investigation began to really heat up.