Imagine that you’re at home, reading a book or watching television, when a police officer begins pounding on the door. You have no desire to engage with the police and you just want to quietly continue your evening. The officer asks if they can come in, and you politely decline.
However, the officer is not happy with your answer and they order you to let them in the house. They tell you that you’re obligated to do what the police say or they will charge you with obstruction of justice or some similar charge. Do you have to do it?
Do they have a warrant?
If you find yourself in this situation, one of the first questions to ask the police officer is simply if they have a warrant. If they claim that they do have a warrant, then you can verify it by asking if you can see it.
The warrant is so important because an officer needs your consent to enter your home. If you deny them this consent, then they can override it with a warrant. But they cannot do so simply with an order. They can’t force you to let them into the house unless they have an official warrant that has been signed by a judge saying that they are allowed to enter regardless of your position on the matter.
There are other potential exceptions. The police can often take action if they believe that there’s an urgent need to do so right away. If they believe that evidence is being destroyed or that a crime is in process, for instance, then they can often go into a home without a warrant or consent.
But even then, they will be obligated later to show that they had probable cause to enter the home. They need to demonstrate that it wasn’t an illegal search. They do this in advance for the warrant, but they still have to do it after the fact if they simply enter.
What should you do next?
If the officer does not have a warrant, does not have consent and is not witnessing an emergency, but they force their way into the home anyway, that could be a violation of your rights under the Fourth Amendment. It may be an illegal search of your home and or your person. This could mean that evidence obtained in the search can’t be used in court if you do end up facing arrest, so make sure you know what legal steps to take.