When the police show up at your door, it can be a very high-anxiety situation. Regardless of why a police officer comes to your home, it’s essential to be aware of your rights, make intelligent decisions, and protect yourself from any potential problems.
While you should typically cooperate with whatever an officer says, this is not always the case. If you feel your rights have been violated in a police interaction, try to document as much of the encounter as possible.
Find out the reason for the visit
Always determine why a police officer has come to your home. In many cases, a visit from the police is nothing to worry about. They might be coming to alert you of something that’s happened in the neighborhood or to ask about a crime unrelated to you.
However, consider some necessary precautions if they want to enter your home. If you’re worried that police will want to come inside, do not open your door to them. You can go outside and greet them at your front step or keep your chain lock engaged while only opening the door a crack.
Alternatively, you can not answer the door at all. Without a warrant, the police have no rights on your property beyond approaching and knocking on your door.
Ask if they have a warrant
Barring a handful of exceptions, police officers can not come inside without a legally obtained warrant. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects you from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” That said, there are two common reasons the police can sidestep obtaining a warrant to search your home.
Avoid saying anything that can be construed as verbal consent for an officer to enter and search your home. If you provide consent, they can legally enter, and anything they find can be held against you.
When seeking consent, the police should make themselves clear about the exact procedures they are asking to perform. It is illegal for the police to forcefully coerce or intimidate you into allowing them into your home.
Probable cause occurs when the police have a valid reason to believe that criminal activity is taking place or there is evidence on the premises.
In the past, a common trigger for probable cause was the smell of marijuana. Thanks to recent legislation, in the state of Missouri, the odor of marijuana is no longer sufficient as “probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle, home, or other private property.”
Understanding your rights during a police officer’s visit to your home can protect your rights as a U.S citizen.