At Your Door Scenario

In any given police visit to your home, with a few notable exceptions, the below rules will help protect your civil rights and improve your chances of leaving safely—so you don’t have to be a legal expert to do the right thing.

1) Keep Your Private Items Out of View
This is common sense: Always keep any private items that you don’t want others to see out of sight. Legally speaking, police do not need a search warrant in order to confiscate any illegal items that are in plain view. Bear in mind that, without a search warrant, police cannot enter you home under any circumstances. Still, if they see something suspicious in the proximity of your house, they could arrive with a warrant quickly and unexpectedly.

2) Do Not Let Them in
Exit the house before greeting the officer. Regardless of what the officer says, there is no reason they need to be allowed into your home. Permitting an officer to enter your home is the equivalent of waiving your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Without a warrant, police officers absolutely cannot enter your home unless you say it is ok for them to do so.

3) Be Courteous & Non-Confrontational
If a police officer contacts you at your home, remain calm. Ask the Officer “How can I help you?” While you may not be pleased to have the police at your door, it is best to treat them as you would any other unexpected visitor. You have nothing to gain -- and everything to lose – by allowing hostilities to emerge.

Even if the officers are being belligerent it’s always in your best interest to remain calm, courteous and non-confrontational.

4) Determine the Reason for the Officer’s Visit
In many cases, the Officer’s visit will have nothing to do with you personally. They may be seeking information about a crime committed in your neighborhood, etc. In other instances, they may have concerns about activities taking place in your home. While you are under no obligation to answer questions from the police, it will often be possible to terminate the encounter simply by agreeing to turn down your music or bring your barking dog in from the backyard. If the police officer indicates that he or she would like to enter your home, you have become a criminal suspect and must be prepared to exercise your constitutional rights.

5) Just Say “No” to Warrantless Searches
Warning: If a police officer asks your permission to search your home you are under no obligation to consent. The only reason he’s asking you is because he doesn’t have enough evidence to search without your consent. If you consent to a search request you give up one of the most important constitutional rights you have—your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

A majority of avoidable police searches occur because citizens naively waive their Fourth Amendment rights by consenting to warrantless searches. As a general rule, if a person consents to a warrantless search, the search automatically becomes reasonable and therefore legal. Consequently, whatever an officer finds during such a search can be used to convict the person.

Don’t expect a police officer to tell you about your right not to consent. Police officers are not required by law to inform you of your rights before asking you to consent to a search. In addition, police officers are trained to use their authority to get people to consent to a search, and most people are predisposed to comply with any request a police officer makes. For example, the average motorist stopped by a police officer who asks them, “Would you mind if I search your vehicle, please?” will probably consent to the officer’s search without realizing that they have every right to deny the officer’s request.

If, for any reason you don’t want the officer digging through your belongings, you should refuse to consent by saying something like, “Officer, I know you want to do your job, but I do not consent to any searches of my private property.” If the officer still proceeds to search you and finds illegal contraband, your attorney can argue that the contraband was discovered through an illegal search and hence should be thrown out of court.

You should never hesitate to assert your constitutional rights. Just say “no!”

6) Do Not Answer Questions without Your Attorney Present
There is no reason to worry that your failure to answer the officer’s questions will later be used against you. The truth is just the opposite: Anything you say can, and probably will, be used against you.

In just about any case imaginable, a person is best off not answering any questions about his involvement in anything illegal. Assert your Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by saying these exact words: “Officer, I have nothing to say until I speak with a lawyer.”

*Remember- If you do choose to answer any of the officer’s questions, always be honest. Police are not easily tricked and will often become hostile if they feel disrespected. If you feel it is best not to answer truthfully, then don’t say anything at all.