Many arrests begin after the police knock on someone's door. We are
frequently asked by defendants who are arrested for crimes such as
drug possession, or
domestic violence how they should have responded to the police knocking.
You have more rights inside of your home than anywhere else. Your right
to be secure from police intrusion is guaranteed by both the United States
and South Carolina constitution.
You are never required to open the door to the police, or even acknowledge
their presence. There are only a few occasions that the police have a
right to forcibly enter your home:
- When the police have a search warrant or an arrest warrant
- When there are exigent circumstances (this includes things like the house
being on fire, or when they hear someone inside hollering for help).
Many times the police will come to a house and knock even when they do
not have a warrant and without any exigent circumstances. In those instances
it is up to you to decide how you would like to respond. You may choose
to ignore the police. When you do this they may continue to knock, ring
your doorbell, and make noise but they will eventually leave. You are
also allowed to tell the police through the door that you aren't going
to talk to them and that they should leave.
Many people are uncomfortable with these strategies though because they
don't want to appear rude, and are afraid of challenging authority.
We have an adversarial criminal justice system, and unfortunately behavior
that might otherwise be considered rude to another visitor might be just
the thing required to ensure your rights are protected. Still, many people
are going to feel like they must open the door to talk to the police.
If you decide to open the door you then are creating an opportunity for
the police to then claim that by doing so you gave them evidence against
you. Maybe they will report that they smelled alcohol on your breath.
Maybe they will say they saw marijuana in plain view in the room behind
you. Maybe they will consider the answer to one of their questions as
confirming some detail of your involvement in a crime.
We've also heard countless stories from clients who report that they
cracked the door open just a little bit in order to talk to the police,
but then the police pushed the door open all the way and came inside.
Because of this we'd recommend that you consider installing a chain
lock, so that you have some protection against this sort of thing.
So what should you do if the police knock on your door? Our advice is to
only respond to them if you feel comfortable doing so. If you do not feel
comfortable, for any reason, then you are best off ignoring them or requesting
that they leave unless they have a warrant.
One caveat to this is however that a report of a possible domestic violence
issue may be considered exigent circumstances. This means that if you
do not open the door and allow the police a chance to check things out
that they might force their way in (and damage your property in the process).