When a police officer knocks on your door and asks if they can come in, it’s a tense moment. Can they come in regardless of what you say? Or can you legally turn them away? You don’t want to get arrested, but you also want to invoke and protect your constitutional rights. There are only a few specific instances in which a police officer has the right to enter your home.
With the permission of a resident
If the police ask you for permission to enter, and you grant it, then they can enter without a warrant. The same is true if your roommate, spouse, or other resident of a responsible age gives them permission to enter.
With a valid warrant
The United States Constitution protects you from random searches by the police. This means that, in order to enter your home without your permission, the police must have a valid warrant that is signed by a judge or magistrate.
In order to be valid, this warrant must be based on probable cause and list the specific areas to be searched – and often must contain a description of the evidence the police expect to find there.
Under exigent circumstances
The United States Supreme Court has recognized that there are certain emergency events that justify entrance by the police into private homes even without a warrant. These include events in which greater harm would occur if the police were to delay their entry to seek a warrant.
For example, the police may enter a home when they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect. They may also enter in order to prevent imminent harm to people inside the home, such as during an episode of domestic violence or another physical confrontation.
The Constitution’s protection of the sanctity of your home is a critical right. If the police violate that right by entering your home illegally, you should be ready to fight to vindicate your rights in court.