What if the Police are at My Door?

Image of police at door

Why would the police come to my house?

  • Serving a search warrant or arrest warrant

  • Attempting to investigate a suspect

  • Looking to question witnesses to a crime

  • Responding to a call for service to 911 from a resident or neighbor

Jump to examples >>

When can police legally enter my home?

  • If the officers have a search warrant or an arrest warrant for someone who lives at the residence, they may enter even without your permission.

  • If there is a reason to believe someone is injured or in danger, officers may enter without your permission.

  • If you verbally agree to let the officers enter or search your residence, the officers may do so. A third party (such as a guest) may not consent on your behalf.

Do I have to consent to letting the officers search my home?

  • Unless officers have a search warrant or there is an emergency, you can say no to a search, tell the officers what room(s) they can and can't search, and take away your consent at any time. 

    • If the officers are looking for evidence of a crime, the officers are required to advise you of these rights, which are called Ferrier warnings.
  • If SPD officers enter with your consent, SPD policy requires that you either be asked to sign a "consent to search" form or that the consent be recorded on video.

What if officers enter without my permission?

  • In general, officers must knock and announce themselves and their purpose before forcing entry into your residence, even when they have a warrant.

  • Do not resist or argue with the officers, even if you believe what they are doing is illegal. Officers may handcuff you when they come in, and you should comply with their orders for safety.

  • If officers are serving a search warrant, you should be given a copy of the warrant as well as a receipt for any property the officers seized.

  • If you are arrested because of an arrest warrant, officers may wait to show you the warrant until you are booked into jail.

  • If officers do not have a warrant, request a business card with the officer's name, badge number, and the incident number.

Examples

Blue circle with yellow number oneSEARCH WARRANT

Officer Brown and his team have a warrant to search Adam's home, based on probable cause that Adam has drugs inside. When they get to the door, Officer Brown announces that police are serving a search warrant and demands the door be opened. Adam hears them but decides not to open the door. Because he has a warrant, after a reasonable amount of time has passed Officer Brown and the team may break down the door, detain Adam, and search the residence.

Blue circle with yellow number twoEXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCE

A neighbor has called police and told them he can hear two people next door screaming at each other and items being smashed. Officer Brown knocks on the door and Adam answers. Brown sees Adam has a bloody nose. Adam won't let Officer Brown in the apartment and denies anybody else is home. Exigent circumstances allow Officer Brown to enter the apartment even over Adam's objection, because he has a good reason to think there might be somebody hurt inside.

Blue circle with yellow number threeUNLAWFUL ENTRY

Officer Brown has probable cause to arrest Adam for theft, but not a warrant. He goes to Adam's house and knocks on the door. Adam opens the door but does not step outside. After Adam refuses to come out, Officer Brown reaches across the threshold of the door and grabs Adam and drags him out. This arrest was illegal in Washington, because Officer Brown did not have a warrant to enter Adam's home, and reaching across the threshold of the door is an unlawful entry. 

Back to the other scenarios >>

Probable cause: Required for officers to arrest you or receive a warrant from a judge. Probable cause does not mean the officer has proof you are guilty; it only requires that the officer have good reasons to think you probably are guilty. For example, if a crime victim identifies you to police as the suspect, that usually establishes probable cause even if there is no other evidence.

Exigent Circumstances: An emergency situation where officers do not have time to ask a judge for a warrant to search a location. An exigent circumstance might exist, for example, when an officer has reason to believe that there is a seriously injured person inside a residence. The officer doesn't need to wait for a search warrant in order to enter and provide help or stop a dangerous situation.