We’ve heard it time-and-time again; “the officers knocked on my door and asked if they could come in. I didn’t want to cause any problems, so I just let them in.” Another scenario, “they said they just wanted to look around.” Next, the officers find something they contend is illegal and place the suspect under arrest. Then the question, “did I have to let them in?” After the arrest is generally not the time to discover the answer to this question. As with any set of circumstances in a search and seizure setting, the answer will always be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Generally, the government (police, agents, detective or other law enforcement agency) is not lawfully permitted to enter a home unless they have a search warrant. There are numerous exceptions to this general rule and a few of the exceptions are mentioned in this post. However, if you do not take anything else away from this post, you need to know that everyone has an expectation of privacy in their home. This means the government cannot enter your home unless the agents have a warrant or circumstances exists that do not require the agents to have a warrant.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and it “shall not be violated.” A search or seizure is presumed to be unreasonable if it is conducted without a warrant. However, the State may overcome the presumption if the search or seizure falls within one of several exceptions. Exceptions to the search warrant “rule” may include an emergency situation (also known as an “exigent circumstances”); the officers see contraband (something illegal) in plain view; or, consent (where you let the officers enter your home).
Every situation is different. Whether the agents are permitted to be in your home will always be determined on a case-by-case basis. There are circumstances where the agents may enter without a search warrant. If you find yourself in a situation where agents are searching your home, whether the agents lawfully entered your home will depend upon the facts and circumstances that exist at the time.
Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Parkerson Santel PLLC. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.
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