If you’re a fan of TV shows like Law and Order: SVU, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or even Lucifer, then you know the importance of search warrants for police. Unfortunately, a lot of things Hollywood portrays is not necessarily accurate.
In some TV shows, you see a detective and their partner talk about a potential suspect. They decide to search the suspect’s home, office, or place of interest, but the suspect refuses to let them. The good cop says they’ll get a warrant ASAP, but the bad cop says there’s not enough time and decides to sneak in and do an illegal search, often finding something that leads them closer to the truth.
Unfortunately, life isn’t a TV show. If a police officer ever tried to do something like that, there would be serious consequences and anything they find as evidence is considered illegally obtained and cannot be used in a court of law.
So, what really happens if you refuse a property search?
The Fourth Amendment
While the police have the duty to investigate anything that could lead to a crime being solved, their work cannot clash with the Fourth Amendment. Under this amendment, private citizens have the right to privacy, thus police are not allowed to conduct unreasonable searches without a warrant.
This means that if you as a property owner do not consent to the police to search your home, a police officer cannot legally storm in your home and force a search even if they’re certain they can find evidence. If they want to search your home, they need to go to a judge and obtain a search warrant by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that evidence that can lead to an arrest can be found in your property.
Exemptions to Warrantless Searches
There are certain exemptions to searching without a warrant. Under these cases, police do not need to obtain a warrant to search your home.
- If You Give Consent. If a policeman knocks on your door and asks to search your property, by saying yes or consenting to the search, they are allowed to enter and search without a warrant. This is because you gave them consent to enter and search.
- Plain View Exception. If a policeman knocks on your door and, when you open it, they see a dead body in your living room. They can search the property and even seize you even without a warrant.
Getting a Warrant
If you refuse to let an officer perform a warrantless search, they will have to obtain a search warrant from a judge. They must go to the magistrate and prove that they have probable cause to believe that there was criminal activity done in the property or they can find evidence of a crime. They will submit affidavits and reports that back up their claims and reasons for needing a search warrant.
If the magistrate grants the warrant, this warrant will put a temporary hold on the Fourth Amendment and allow the police to conduct a search regardless of the property owner’s wishes. To avoid police offers from abusing the search warrant, the warrant will indicate specifics such as the address of the house, the date, and the specific place of the house to be searched.
Searches with a Warrant
So, if an officer you turned away comes back with a warrant, you cannot refuse the search. You can double check by calling your local law enforcement office to see if it is a legitimate search warrant. You have the right to read the warrant and double check the details if they are correct.
Should there be nothing wrong with the warrant, the best thing you can do is to step aside and let the police officers do their job. If you have nothing to hide or believe that you and other members of your household are innocent of any crime, then things should go smoothly.
Because the officers have a warrant, trying to block their entry may just make you look more suspicious and cause a scene. Do not try to use violence or threaten a police officer’s life to block them from your home, as you can be charged with battery against a police officer. The punishment for this can vary between states, but in some cases, it can include jail time or fines.
So, to recap: you are legally allowed to refuse a search on your home if police do not have a warrant. Likewise, police are also allowed to conduct a search without a warrant if you consent to it. On the other hand, should they do obtain a warrant, they can search your home regardless of whether or not you want them to. Trying to block them from entering your property is pointless and can lead to fines and jail time if you do so violently.