Do I Have to Let the Police in my House?

Do I have to let the police in my house?

In a word, no.  The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches, which includes the entry of a home by police without a warrant.  Courts have historically given homes the highest level of protection under the Fourth Amendment.  Homes have such a strong privacy protection that the Supreme Court has said, “The physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.”

What if the police have an arrest warrant?

Whether police can enter a home with an arrest warrant to search for a suspect depends on whose home the police want to enter.  An arrest warrant can authorize police entry of a home if the police have an arrest warrant for a suspect, know where the suspect lives, and want to enter the suspect’s home to locate the suspect.  For example, the police have an arrest warrant for John Doe for an alleged crime of terrorist threats and they know John Doe lives at 123 Main Street in Minnesota.  The arrest warrant would authorize the police to enter 123 Main Street to look for John Doe.

However, police do not have the same authority to enter a home with a search warrant if they are looking for a suspect at a residence other than the suspect’s.  Say the police show up at 456 Main Street in Minnesota and tell the homeowner they have an arrest warrant for John Doe and want to come in and look for Mr. Doe.  The homeowner does not have to let the police into the home.  The one catch here is if police are able to prove that they had a reasonable belief that the suspect resided at 456 Main Street and also had a reasonable belief that the suspect was at the home at the time the police demanded entry.  This combination of circumstances can justify police entry of a home with an arrest warrant.

An arrest warrant does not authorize police to search contents of a home.  If police are justified in entering a home with an arrest warrant, they are limited to looking for the individual.  This would not include opening drawers, for example, because there is no possibility of a suspect hiding in a drawer.

What if the police have a search warrant?

A homeowner does not have the same protections against police entry if the police have a search warrant.  A search warrant must be signed by a judge.  This means the police have submitted an application and affidavit to a judge stating why they think evidence of criminal activity will be found in a particular residence.  A judge reviewed the search warrant application and officer’s affidavit and determined that the police were likely to find the evidence they are looking for a particular residence.  Once signed by a judge, the search warrant gives the police authority to enter the home against the consent of the homeowner.

The scope of authority, in other words, exactly where the police can search, will depend on the nature of the evidence the police are seeking.  If the police have a search warrant authorizing the search of a home for a stolen TV, for example, they would not be allowed to open drawers because there’s no reasonable likelihood of finding a TV in a drawer.

Are there other reasons the police can enter a home without a warrant?

Minnesota law allows the police to enter a home without an arrest warrant or search warrant in a handful of limited and unique circumstances.  First, and maybe not so unique, is if the homeowner consents and freely and voluntarily allows the police to enter the home.  The police may also be allowed to enter a home without a warrant or consent if they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect.  The police must have observed the suspect enter the residence they want to enter.  The police may also enter a residence without a warrant if they are concerned for the safety of human life or to prevent the destruction or loss of evidence.

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Our Minneapolis-St. Paul criminal defense lawyers have successfully fought back against the illegal entry of a home.  Our Minnesota defense attorneys have had evidence suppressed and charges dismissed based on unlawful searches of a home.  Call us today if you’d like a free consultation.

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