Your rights according to the Fourth Amendment are as follow:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, 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.
So Do You Have to Answer If the Police Knock?
Well, cops have a right to enter your house with a signed search warrant. They obtain a warrant by taking “evidence of a crime” to the appropriate local judge. If a judge agrees there may be evidence in your house, he or she will authorize the warrant. So if the police present a warrant, you must unlock your door and allow them to enter … or they’re legally permitted to break in.
Generally, the best next step is to stand aside and remain silent. If you’re carrying, however, the best thing is probably to inform the officers, then keep your hands well away from your defensive weapon. Usually, they’ll take your gun. Don’t be surprised if one or more draw their own service weapons. It will be up to you to remain as calm as possible and comply with the demands, even if doing so seems ridiculous or unfair. If their demands are unreasonable, you’ll have time later to hire a lawyer.
Sometimes, however, the police don’t need a signed search warrant for entry. They can make you open the door (or bust it down) if there is an “exigent circumstance.” In such a case and even with the protection of the Fourth Amendment, police can lawfully enter without a warrant.
Here are a few examples:
- Someone is in danger
- A shooter is firing from inside the house
- There’s a fire
- A fleeing suspect has entered
- To protect evidence of a crime
What Is Reasonable?
When deciding whether police have legitimate cause to enter your home the question to answer is “Would a reasonable person agree with the need to force entry?”. If you end up in a criminal case, a court of law will determine (eventually, because it will take years) if the entrance into your home was lawful.
So do you need to answer the door if the police knock? It, of course, depends on the circumstances, but if officers present a search warrant or believe there are “exigent circumstances,” your safest move is to allow them in without protest. Let your attorney argue about the legality and whether Fourth Amendment rights have been violated later in court.
If you’re armed and the police knock, the best move is perhaps to remove your defensive weapon and place it out of arm’s length. If they ask to come in, you can always say no. But realize they may have a right under law to force their way inside. If they do, point out your gun and make no move toward it in any manner. With a gun or knife nearby, police may become nervous. Your job is to help them remain calm and go about their business.
Perhaps not a very satisfying solution but stay calm and be safe.
Further Reading on Fourth Amendment Rights
If you want to read more about the police right to enter your home or car, see “Supreme Court Upholds Sanctity of the Home, Rejects Expanded Police Power in Gun Seizure Case.” The article is based on a recent Supreme Court decision that limits the rights of law enforcement officers to enter your home and seize your guns. Oddly, it begins with the 52-year-old case of Cady v. Dombrowski — an auto accident that ended with the Supreme Court unanimously rejecting the right of police to enter your home and seize your property on a whim.