With all of the talk of impending raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are making sure that people who may be the targets of these raids know their rights if ICE agents show up at their door. However, how many people know their rights if any law enforcement officer comes to their home?
It's easy to be frightened and intimidated by uniformed officers demanding -- or even asking -- to come in. However, it's essential to remember that you have rights. You just have to know how to assert them in a way that doesn't endanger your (or anyone's) safety or create more legal problems than you may already have.
In most cases, law enforcement officers can't enter or search a property without a warrant signed by a judge. You have the right to ask if they have that and to review it before you let them in. If they don't have one, you should politely inform them that you can't let them in without a search warrant.
You may ask what the officers want. They may simply be trying to get information on a break-in or other crime that occurred in the area. You may choose to talk to them outside your home or even through the door. However, be careful about saying anything that could be self-incriminating. If you haven't done anything wrong -- perhaps besides having your music turned up too loud -- it's in your best interests to be polite and helpful to the officers.
If you see police at your door, you don't have to answer. It may not seem like it if you've been a Law & Order fan for many years, but officers typically don't force their way inside homes. Often, officers gain entrance without a search warrant because someone invites them in -- maybe believing they have no choice. Once they're in, they can seize anything they see that they believe might be evidence of a crime. That evidence would be admissible in court if it was in "plain view."
If you believe that police gained access to your home and/or seized evidence improperly, and you're facing criminal charges as a result, it's essential to let your attorney know that your 4th Amendment rights may have been violated. Evidence that's obtained illegally typically can't be used against you.