When Can the Police Break Down My Door?

Crime dramas on television are full of scenes were law enforcement make a mad scramble to a suspect’s house and kick down the door in order to try to arrest them before they can commit another crime or dispose of the evidence against them. We find this confuses a number of people: can the police come kick my door down in they suspect me of committing a crime? Does this really happen all the time?

To put it bluntly: no. It doesn’t happen very often at all. In fact, laws restrict what police and other law enforcement agencies can actually do in terms of conducting searches and pursuing suspects. The legislation which restricts the federal government in such a way comes directly from the very founding principles of our country located in the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable search and seizures by authorities, granting citizens a certain amount of privacy, except for in a few circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at how the Fourth Amendment protects you and your home from intrusion by officers.

“Knock-and-Announce”

Kicking down the door is known as a “forced entry,” and forced entries are forbidden by law except in rare instances. First, police must actually have permission to conduct a search. Permission can be obtained in only a few ways, but primarily their two options are they must either obtain your permission, or get a search warrant signed by a judge. In order for law enforcement to obtain a warrant, they must go before a judge and explain what they believe they will find, where they believe they’ll find it, why they believe it’s there, when they plan on searching, and several other things. In other words, it’s not nearly as easy of a process as television makes it look.

Even then, once authorities have obtained a warrant, they are required to perform what is known as a “knock-and-announce,” which means they must knock on the door and give whoever is inside a “reasonable amount of time” to answer the knock. There is no “reasonable amount of time” standard, however, and whether or not this was adhered to is up to a court’s discretion. If you do not answer the door, then law enforcement who have a search warrant have permission to break down the door and force entry into a home.

Exceptions to Knock and Announce

While knock-and-announce is the standard and widely-accepted rule, there are two instances in which police do not have to adhere to this rule and can force entry without knocking. These exceptions are exigency and permission. Exigency refers to circumstances that dictate a dire emergency. For example, officers who worry that evidence against someone may be being destroyed do not have to wait in order to enter a home and do not have to knock or wait for someone to answer. Let’s look at an example: a drug enforcement team go to a home of a suspected smuggler and knock on the door. As soon as they do, they hear the sound of a toilet flushing (which is a common way of disposing of illicit drugs when in a pinch), they may then break down the door and enter to help preserve the evidence being lost. Officers may also choose to enter in order to protect a potential victim, such as if they pull up to a residence after receiving a noise complaint and hear threats or screaming as though someone were actually in danger of physical harm.

Permission might seem as though it means that law enforcement may break down a door if the resident gives them permission, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if someone’s got something to hide. Instead in this instance, permission refers to a permission from a judge to waive the knock and announce requirement. This is typically granted in drug raids where the suspected individual has large stages of contraband and a history of violence or large attack dogs that could pose a threat of physical harm to the officers.

If you have been arrested and think your search and seizure rights may have been impacted, it’s important that you seek legal counsel from a qualified McKinney criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Any evidence obtained through illicit means can immediately be disqualified from entry into court due to misconduct by law enforcement, which could dramatically impact your case.

Call The Crowder Law Firm, P.C. today at (214) 981-1441 to request a case evaluation and discuss your case in further detail.
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