It is a unique and stressful experience to open your front door and find the police on the other side. For most clients at Koch Law, it is also an extremely rare occurrence that can immediately ignite fear, suspicion, and concern. Yet, as a New York criminal lawyer, a member of our legal team must regularly discuss these events and the appropriate reactions with clients and contacts.
This experience with due process and police encounters has given us an extensive basis for counseling clients on searches of New York homes. We’ve developed a repertoire of appropriate responses and what to avoid when the police are knocking at your door. While a great deal of this advice is best provided on a case-by-case basis, this post contains some of the widely applicable lessons learned as a New York criminal lawyer.
What to Do Before You Open the Door?
As a New Yorker, you are probably accustomed to checking the peephole on your front door. Whether you live in an apartment or townhouse, NYC residents have a healthy skepticism of unannounced visitors, which comes in handy when the police are outside your New York home.
If you see the uniforms of the NYPD or other law enforcement before you open the door there are several actions you should take. Move any objects, paraphernalia, papers, or other materials that could cause suspicion away from the front door. No matter the reason for the police visit, you don’t want to give law enforcement cause to enter your home without a warrant. Anything in plain sight could give the police probable cause to come inside.
Be judicious in how long you take to open the door and how much of your surroundings you expose. You probably don’t have anything to hide in the immediate interior of your home, and possibly you have no reason to bar the police from entering at all. However, you do have rights when the police want to search your home, and the less you do to build the mistrust or suspicion of law enforcement, the better.
Know Your Rights to Deny Law Enforcement Entry
The Fourth Amendment is a strong protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and nowhere do you have a stronger presumption of privacy and protection from police search than in your own New York home. A New York criminal lawyer can provide more information on the basis of the Fourth Amendment, but it is sufficient to understand that this provision of the Constitution prohibits any unlawful or illegal search and seizure. The courts have interpreted this to mean that the police need a warrant to search your home.
When you do open the door for police and they ask to enter, your first question should be whether they have a warrant. Absent a warrant, you have no obligation to allow the police into your home. In fact, without a warrant, the police have absolutely no legal basis to enter your home.
Your firm refusal to allow the police in your New York home is important. If the police enter your property without permission, any evidence collected becomes prohibited in court.
What Is a Search Warrant and Your Rights?
A search warrant is an order issued by a New York judge. The warrant will authorize law enforcement to search a specific piece of property, motor vehicle, or even obtain specific documentation. The basis for a search warrant will vary, but it is always based on evidence discovered earlier in a case or investigation. Only what is listed on the search warrant is accessible to police during a search of a New York home.
If the police do have a search warrant for your property, the situation becomes much more serious. The police will present the warrant to you and ask to enter the property. If the warrant is valid, then you commit criminal obstruction by refusing law enforcement entry to your home or preventing a search.
However, you want to ensure police stay within the confines of the search warrant. Once a search warrant is presented, your first phone call is to a New York criminal lawyer. You want to provide as much information about the warrant and its terms as possible. Then your New York defense lawyer can help assess during the search and after if there was any violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
Can You Refuse to Open the Door to the Police?
Finally, a question that we frequently receive as a New York criminal lawyer is whether it is illegal to not open the door for the police. You are under no obligation to open the door to law enforcement. Absent a warrant, the police won’t be able to force the door open or otherwise enter your property, even if they know you are inside. If the NYPD has a warrant to search the premises, they will execute that warrant with or without your consent.
Often, refusing the police entry is the best approach to dealing with law enforcement wanting to search your New York home. If you are uncertain how to proceed as the police stand outside, you can always contact your New York criminal lawyer at Koch Law and ask. We are always available at (844) 562-4529.