The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows the American people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The ultimate goal of the Fourth Amendment is to protect peoples' right to privacy and to keep them free from government intrusions.
If people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, why do the police sometimes break down doors or enter peoples' homes without a search warrant? Usually, a warrantless search of a private premises is prohibited unless there are "exigent circumstances."
Exigent circumstances refer to exceptions to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment, searches and seizures. Exigent circumstances refer to emergency situations when a law enforcement officer has probable cause and there is not enough time to secure a warrant.
In the presence of "exigent circumstances," the police may knock down a door to prevent a suspect's escape, to preserve evidence such as drugs being flushed down the toilet, or to protect a victim from physical harm.
To illustrate, if officers respond to a domestic violence call and from outside the residence hear noises as if someone is being physically harmed from inside the home, they may force their way into the home to protect the victim from the attacker.
When a warrantless search yields an arrest and the seizure of evidence, courts will look at the warrantless search and seizure to evaluate whether a reasonable officer at the scene would believe that urgent action was necessary and there was insufficient time to secure a warrant.
If the police were in hot pursuit of a suspect who was possibly engaged in criminal activities and fleeing, the court may also consider that "exigent circumstances." A warrantless arrest may be invalidated if the police are unable to demonstrate exigent circumstances.
What about the knock and announce rule?
As a general rule, the police are not supposed to enter your home or break down your door in a forced entry. Before entering your home, officers are supposed to knock, announce their presence, and give you a reasonable amount of time to answer the door. This is known as the "knock and announce rule."
The whole purpose of this rule is to give people the opportunity to respond so violence can be prevented, however, this is only a general rule.
If the police have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or valuable evidence is being disposed of, they may decide to knock down your door, and the courts will consider this as a factor when deciding if the forced entry into your home and subsequent seizure were reasonable.
Do you believe your Fourth Amendment rights were violated? Contact Taylor & Taylor Attorneys to discuss your charges in a free case evaluation!