Can the Police Enter My House without a Warrant?

You, like many people, may wonder whether the police are allowed to enter your home without a warrant—particularly if you currently live in an apartment or a dorm room on your college campus.


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The Fourth Amendment does provide citizens the right to be secure in their home against unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, this right cannot be violated without a warrant which is based on probable cause, however there are exceptions.

It is important to understand that law enforcement agents routinely conduct what is known as a “knock and talk” investigation. This means that the officers will speak to the person who answers the door, and may then attempt to gain entry into the home through consent.

If you happen to be the person who answered the door, nothing prohibits you from saying you are refusing consent, then politely closing the door on the police officer. When you are attempting to determine whether the Fourth Amendment applies in your case, consider the following:

  • Do you have an expectation of privacy, and
  • Will society recognize this expectation as being subjectively reasonable?

While you never have to consent to a search of your home—and you should never do so—there are exceptions to the requirement for a warrant. These exceptions include:

The “plain view doctrine” essentially says that if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe they have seen something in plain view which is illegal, then the officer can enter your home and seize that item. The item could be seen through a window, or could be seen when you open the door to speak to an officer.

When law enforcement believes there is probable cause that a search will uncover some type of criminal activity or contraband, then this is a second exception to the requirement for a warrant. As an example, suppose you are having a party for friends. A police officer knocks on your door, and when you open the door, the officer says he smells marijuana. This would give the officer probable cause to enter your home and search. Remember—there is no law which requires you to open your door wide enough for an officer to see (or smell) inside your home.

Officers may also be able to enter your home under what is known as “exigent circumstances.” This means that if a police officer reasonably believes evidence could be lost or destroyed by the time a warrant is obtained, he or she may legally search your home for such evidence. Exigent circumstances searches generally also require probable cause.

What about Fraternity or Sorority Houses?

The lines tend to blur even more, when the residence is a fraternity or sorority house, which are usually owned, at least in part, by the university. Because of this ownership, university officials or university security guards may legally be able to enter the house, however they do not have the authority to allow a search of an individual room.

If you reside in a fraternity or sorority house, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your room, therefore it cannot be searched absent one of the exceptions listed above.

How to Avoid Allowing the Police into Your Home

It is always a good idea to know who is at your door prior to opening it. Know how you would handle the situation if you were faced with law enforcement knocking at your door. If you see police at your door, you might exit through another door and greet the police officers outside, thus preventing them from seeing into your home. You are also allowed to speak with the officers through the opening afforded by a chain lock device. You might also simply not open the door. If the officers don’t have a warrant, they will eventually leave. You are absolutely allowed to tell officers that you will not let them inside your home without a warrant. If such a situation occurs, it would be a good idea to immediately contact a Mississippi criminal defense attorney.

If you believe that you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure or other unlawful police activity in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi , we can help . The best thing you can do in the present, which can significantly alter the outcome of your charges and thus your future, is to contact an experienced Mississippi criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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