Can Police Search My House?

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It’s a cold winter day with numerous lake effect snow warnings for the snow belt area of northeast Ohio.  You’ve just settled down with a nice hot cup a cocoa, a fire blazing in the fireplace and the latest episode of Game of Thrones ready to play so you can catch up with the rest of the world on the storyline.  Suddenly, lights are flashing outside your window and there’s a loud banging on the door.  The voice behind the door barks, “open up, it’s the police.”  What do you do? In this article you will get the answer of your question that can police search my house?

            The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

            Wow, that’s a mouthful, but doesn’t answer the “what do you do” question.  What does that all mean?

            For starters, it means the police must obtain a warrant before forcibly searching your home.  If they are knocking on your door and they have a warrant, you do have to let them in to search your home.  You can, however, ask to read the warrant, or even ask the officer to read it to you.

            If the officers knocking on your door do not have a search warrant, they may still ask for your consent to search your property.  You do have the right to refuse to consent to the search.  The police only need permission from the person who is in control of the property to search the property.  If you have a roommate, you can only give consent for the search of the common areas or your own private areas, but not the private areas of the roommate. 

            The officers may also search without a warrant if there is some type of evidence of a crime that is clearly visible.  For instance, if the officers that are knocking on your door had a valid reason to be on the property, such as searching for your roommate in response to an assault complaint, and see the marijuana plant you are growing in your garden.  The officers may also seize those plants as evidence.

            The police may also search the home incident to arrest. If your roommate is home and the officers are placing him under arrest, they may search for weapons to protect their safety.

            Finally, police may search a home if they are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect or believe that evidence is going to be destroyed.  This only applies in emergency type situations in which the public could be harmed by waiting for a warrant or where evidence would be destroyed while waiting.

            So, what to do about that knocking?  When answering the door be polite and ask the officers why they are at the home.  If they have a warrant, ask to read the warrant, but do not interfere with the officers actions.  If they are asking for consent, you have the right to refuse the search.  If they indicate they are searching without a warrant under one of the accepted reasons, do not interfere even if you disagree.  The time to argue about whether there was valid reason to search will be in court, not at your home.  Just be clear that you do not consent to the search. 

            If you feel your rights have been violated, be sure to contact Bangerter Law for an experienced criminal law attorney right in the heart of Lake County Ohio.