What Should I Do If Police Come to My House With a Search Warrant?
You are having a pleasant afternoon in your South Florida home when there is an unexpected knock on your door. You open the door to see several police officers on your front steps advising you that they have a warrant to search your house.
What do you do?
You may be wondering why the police want to search your home, or maybe you have an idea why they have gone to the trouble of obtaining a judge’s approval for a search warrant. Either way, you need to make sure that you handle the situation calmly and in a way that protects your rights without antagonizing or interfering with the officers’ lawful performance of their duties.
Here are five tips for dealing with police who show up to your home claiming to have a warrant:
Be respectful and non-confrontational. Understandably, you may be surprised, angry, or defensive about a bunch of strangers rummaging about your house looking for evidence that they may then use to charge you with a crime. As with any interactions with police officers, you have constitutional rights which you should not be afraid to exercise. But at the same time, you should assert those rights calmly and respectfully. You don’t have to assist the officers or go out of the way to make their search easier, but yelling at them, getting in their way, or otherwise acting confrontational will not help you and in fact could undermine legal challenges you may have to the validity of the warrant or the search.
Ask to inspect the warrant before entry. A search warrant needs to be approved and signed by a judge in order to be valid. It also must contain specific information describing the area to be searched and what the police are looking for. Politely ask the officer to see the warrant and make sure it contains the following information:
the premises and specific areas covered;
the date and time which the warrant permits the police to be present on your property to conduct a search;
the specific documents or objects that are being searched for.
If the warrant specifies only certain parts of your property, those are the only areas the police can conduct a valid search. Similarly, if the warrant specifies that the police are searching for stolen big screen TVs, they should not be searching in your medicine cabinet. If the police ask for your permission to search areas of your home not specified in the warrant, do not give your consent. If police go beyond the authority provided in the warrant, any evidence obtained from such a search could be suppressed, but only if you have not consented to the search.
Keep quiet. Just as if you were at a police station or on the side of the road, you have the right to remain silent in your own home when questioned by the police. Other than asking to see the warrant, ask as few questions and say as little as possible.
Video the entire search. As long as you are not interfering with the search, you have the right to video the police while they conduct their search. Even if they are conducting a valid search, the police must act in a reasonable manner. This means they should not be breaking things or leaving a huge mess. If the police act unreasonably or exceed the scope of the warrant, your video could be used by your criminal defense lawyer to challenge the validity of the search. Your recording may also be used in a claim for any damage done during the search.
Call your criminal defense attorney. Evidence that is unlawfully gathered can be suppressed and prosecutors should not be able to use such evidence to try and convict you. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to determine whether there is any basis for attacking the search and if so, move to get any evidence obtained in the search thrown out.
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For over 28 years, Miami criminal defense attorney Albert M. Quirantes has been aggressively and zealously defending the rights of those accused of felony and misdemeanor crimesthroughout South Florida. With his dedicated team, reasonable legal fees, and a well-earned reputation for challenging prosecutors at every turn, he has protected over 8,000 clients during some of the roughest times of their lives.
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