One of the most common questions people have about their own rights is when police can legally search their home. After all, the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Over the years, there have been both state and federal court cases that have helped to establish when it is legal for law enforcement to enter your home and when doing so violates your basic civil liberties. Understanding when law enforcement has the legal right to enter your home can help you stand up for your rights and assert yourself during a potentially uncomfortable encounter.
Police can come in if you invite them inside
The easiest way for law enforcement to gain admission to your home is to simply ask for it. Law enforcement could just knock on your door and expect your sense of decency to allow them to gain entry into your space.
You might feel compelled to invite them into a house for a conversation that they claim to need to have with you. Once they get inside, anything they see that indicates that a crime could have occurred on your property will give them grounds to search your house.
Cops can come inside when they have a warrant to search the property
If police believe you have broken the law, they will ask a judge to issue a search warrant for your property. This warrant will usually provide the scope of what can be searched. You are under a legal obligation to admit law enforcement into your home when they have a search warrant. However, before you do so, you have the right to examine the warrant and verify it is accurate and valid.
Police can enter your home as part of a pursuit
If police are in the process of chasing someone who has broken the law and that person comes onto your property, law enforcement can follow them onto your property and search for that individual. In fact, there are circumstances in which law enforcement will search a large number of yards to find evidence related to someone fleeing custody.
Police can enter your home if they think there is a crime in progress
Police have the right to come onto private property if there is a crime in progress. Sounds of distress, such as screaming for help, would give police the right to enter your home. Similarly, visual, auditory or even olfactory evidence of a crime in progress can give police a reason to search your home.
In fact, the Supreme Court has empowered law enforcement to enter a property if there are sounds that could even reasonably seem like a crime in progress. For example, the sound of a toilet flushing, a garbage disposal or a paper shredder could all give police a legal reason to enter your home due to suspicion of destroying evidence.
If you believe that police illegally entered and searched your home, your best option is to sit down with a Virginia attorney who understands the laws and the rights of citizens under both the federal and state constitutions.