It’s the middle of the night. You are in bed, maybe asleep, maybe trying to get to sleep. All of a sudden there is a banging on the door, and shouts of, “Police! Open! Police!” Or maybe there is regular, constant knocking and someone asking, “Anyone home? Hello?” Startled, you jump out of bed, go to the door and open it. Maybe you speak English, maybe you do not. Two uniformed police officers are at the door and say there has been an accident, they need to see your son, your husband, or your wife. What do you do?
Police cannot simply come into your house without permission to do so. This permission usually comes in one of two forms: either officers have a warrant, signed by a judge, allowing them to enter, or someone in the house gives them permission to enter the house when they arrive. As we have discussed previously in this blog space, United States laws provide protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes this right, stating: “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In other words, if an officer does not have a warrant to enter your home, the officer cannot enter unless someone gives him permission to do so. The permission must be given voluntarily, and must not be coerced. (There are a few other, less common exceptions to the warrant requirement which we will not discuss here.) When a person is in his or her own house, the right to be free from unreasonable searches is heightened: “Courts are particularly reluctant to find exceptions to this rule in the context of a warrantless search or seizure in a home.” State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 222 (Minn. 1992), citing Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980).
However, people often want to cooperate with authorities, a natural response. If it is the middle of the night, if you are new in a community, if you do not speak the language well, if your home country conditions expect total compliance with any police demand, if you feel intimidated by the police commands, and for many other reasons, you may feel that you should or must open the door if police stand on the other side. Remember that you do not have to, that you may remain silent, or politely ask police if they have a warrant, and if not, decline to open the door.
Wilson Law Group successfully suppressed evidence in a case in which a client had arrived home after working a long shift and gone to bed, but his wife opened the door when police arrived later, around 1-2am. The wife did not speak much English, and made some sort of gesture with her arm that police said they interpreted as a gesture to enter. The police had repeatedly told the wife they needed to see her husband, that he had been in an accident and they needed to talk to him, and she felt intimidated and confused. However, the police did not arrive with an arrest warrant, and had no exception to the warrant requirement other than their claim that the wife gave them permission to enter with her gesture. After entering the home, the police found the man in his bed, roused him, asked him questions, and subsequently arrested him for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). A Wilson Law Group attorney filed a Motion to Suppress and the Court agreed that police exceeded their authority, that they did not have permission to enter the house, and suppressed all evidence that police obtained after their entry into the house. The case was dismissed!
If you believe that law enforcement violated your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, or if you have been charged with a crime in the state of Minnesota, call Wilson Law Group now for a free consultation.