Having the police knocking on a person’s door and asking to come in and search the property can be a very overwhelming and scary experience. Hence, homeowners should know what to do in these situations so they’re not caught off guard and fall victim to police officers’ abuse of authority.

Ask for Identification

Before even opening the door for the police officers, the homeowner should ask for some type of identification so they are aware of who they’re dealing with. It’s recommended that they verify the identity of the police officers through a peephole, windows, security cameras, etc., and in the meantime, keep the doors locked.

Ask for a Search Warrant

Homeowners should know that they are not obligated to open the door for the officers and let them in unless they have a valid search warrant. They should ask to see the warrant immediately after verifying the police officers’ identities.

If they cannot present one, the homeowner can kindly say that they do not consent to searches and ask the officers to leave.

Verify if the Warrant is Valid

Should the officers have a warrant, the next thing to do is to review it. The homeowner should read it in its entirety and assess whether or not it is valid. A valid search warrant should be:

  1. Signed by the judge
  2. Specific as to the property to be searched
  3. Specific as to items to be seized

Generally, officers are not allowed to search, confiscate, or seize anything outside of the authority given to them by the judge. The limits should be indicated in the search warrant. There is, however, an exception to this rule called the plain view doctrine.

Plain View Doctrine

The plain view doctrine allows police officers to seize items not indicated in the warrant if it is sitting in plain view. For example, if they find illegal drugs or firearms on a coffee table while conducting their search, they do not need to go to court and get another warrant. Under the plain view doctrine, they can seize anything clearly illegal in plain view.

Exercise Your Rights

Most homeowners make the mistake of opening their doors for police officers without question. However, it is well within their rights to first assess the situation by verifying the officers’ identities, asking for a search warrant, and checking if the warrant is valid.