Is it Illegal to Not Answer the Door For Police?

It can be alarming, that moment when you hear the police pounding on the door like they plan to break it down. Should you happen to have several call girls sitting with you doing drugs, then terror might be a better description. Are you going to jail? Even if you’ve never even jaywalked, police beating on your door is not a happy sound. Regardless of what you do, this can happen to you. The question is, what can you do about it?

Is it illegal to not answer the door for police? The short answer is, if you live in the United States you can ignore them. It’s not illegal to ignore the police at your door. Police have to have a warrant or a very good reason to get inside unless you openly invite them. If they do have warrants or probable cause (like someone screaming inside) you don’t have to open up but they can enter anyhow, especially if they believe there’s a real danger.

What Happens if You Don’t Answer

Depending on the situation, the options officers have varied wildly. For example, things are very different when someone reported domestic violence or child abuse inside a home than if they just want to ask if you saw anyone swipe the neighbors’ dog yesterday. Consequently, however loud and urgent the knocking seems, if you don’t answer they may be forced to leave. For obvious reasons, this is not going to be the case in the example given where someone is screaming for help.

Even if they scream out, “police,” your curiosity may get the best of you and impel you to see who might be knocking. Therefore, you want to make sure that no one from the outside can see you or a shadow of you from underneath the doors or windows. So always make sure to lock your doors (even make sure all window have shades drawn and latches fastened and locked) securely. Prepare ahead of time to install inexpensive setups that will help you hide inside properly. You might want to install a privacy peephole, removable door security bar, under-door dirt/draft blocker, and a video doorbell. You can click the highlighted items to get the latest pricing from Amazon.

The Worst Thing You Can Do

Choosing not to answer the door, nor even acknowledge it is fine unless they have that warrant. Realistically if you do talk to the police you should be polite and non-threatening. Even through a closed door behaving like a decent person when you interact with law enforcement will get you a lot less noticeable. Even when refusing, simply using good manners to do so takes the tension out of the situation and can help avoid future problems.

There is one thing you should never, under any circumstances, do when police are at the door. Do not answer the door with a weapon. It is your right to carry a legally registered firearm in your home. It is also the officers right to respond to perceived threats with violence. The so-called “Fraidy Cop” rule allows any officer to shoot if they have a reasonable fear for their own life. When you answer the door armed, you are giving them that fear.

Entering With A Warrant

As a general rule, an officer can enter and search if they have a warrant. There are codes of conduct that they generally have to abide by, but they can come in. A warrant is location specific and states what they are looking for. For example, they may be searching for evidence that someone is selling drugs and this means they can seize packaging materials, drugs, paraphernalia, and even cash that looks like it may have been part of this sort of transaction.

Even with a warrant, the police are limited. They cannot simply behave in any way they want and get away with it. Officers can ask you and other people in the home to stay in one place or step outside, they can even cuff you for safety reasons in some circumstances. However, they generally can’t refuse you the right to put your pants on if you’re naked. Additionally, it’s not as though they can simply hold you for hours without food or drink. Overstepping the bounds can invalidate the evidence they might collect if you’ve done something wrong.

When Can Police Enter Without a Warrant

No one wants to think that law enforcement can walk into their home. That’s not comforting at all. Mostly, the truth is that they can’t. The law severely limits the rights of police officers to help keep their power in check. There are times when no warrant is needed, but that’s rare.

With Permission

A tenant or property owner can let police enter. Your landlord doesn’t always need permission to come in. If they’ve informed you they are coming for a good reason, you can’t really stop them. Each state has different laws governing landlords behavior, but they can bring police anytime it is legal for them to enter.

Your roommates or family can allow police officers into your property as long as they live with you. In all these cases, landlords, roommates and family, they do not have to get your consent as well. When you live jointly with others and you do not want police to come in, you should discuss the situation before anything happens. If you’re lucky everyone will be on the same page, however, if for example, your roommate disagrees, they have the right to let police in when you wouldn’t or vice versa.

Exigent Circumstances

Law enforcement doesn’t want you to destroy evidence. Exigent Circumstances is a bit harder to prove but sometimes officers know that waiting means losing the proof that a crime happened. The police can come in and save the evidence in a case like that. Realistically, this helps preserve public safety.

In Connection With an Arrest

Sensibly, if there’s an arrest, there should be evidence. In that case, the officers on the scene can look for weapons, search you, check your car or house and generally look around (in a reasonable manner) for proof or accomplices. Anything they find may be evidence in court.

If They Can See It

Whether you open any doors or not, if your front window is open and anyone who looks inside can see what’s going on then it’s enough reason to enter. If everyone who comes to the door can see those call girls are doing drugs in the living room, you’re in trouble. In a way, the police in this scenario are witnesses to the crime; they have more ability than most to stop it. Naturally, it makes sense for an officer to halt a crime they can see going on.

Should I Let Them In

Having a right is not the same as exercising it. As anyone who has ever plead the fifth in court can tell you, it doesn’t always make things better even when it prevents you from causing immediate trouble for yourself. If you do have a house full of contraband best not open up. On the other hand, if you really haven’t done anything wrong the quickest solution can be to step outside and chat or invite the nice officers in for coffee. You still don’t have to consent to a search.

If you choose to tell the police to go away, you are stepping up for everyone afraid to demand their rights from those in authority. There is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself and others. It can be the right choice, but may also be more trouble than you anticipated. Making a brave and vital choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. When you take that option, either don’t do anything that could get you in trouble if it arouses suspicion, or have your lawyer on retainer.

Always check your local laws. Refusing to assist police may be illegal and complicate the issue in some cases. Depending on state, county or city laws you may have to contend with provisos beyond the federal laws.

Final Thoughts

The nuances between what’s legal, what’s right, and what’s smart can be infuriating. The thought of just going on with your life and not paying any attention to pesky police beating on your door is nice. You can do it if you want. Unfortunately, the end result might be that the police become more interested in what you’re doing in there. The last thing you want is incredibly interested law enforcement looking for a reason to get into your home. As the old expression goes, “don’t let the devil through the door.”

Additional Questions

  • Do I have to identify myself to police if they ask? As awkward as this is, the answer to this depends on several factors. If you get stopped, location matters. During a traffic stop, if you’re driving, then you have to show your ID. About half the states in the US have stop and identify laws. In general, an officer needs to have a reasonable belief that you’ve committed a crime. There are other cases, such as Arizona’s legislation that lets officers stop anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
  • Is stop and frisk legal? To begin with, you have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Quite literally this is the 4th amendment. Technically, any stop is a seizure of a person whether the ‘and frisk,’ part is included or not. In spite of some things said in error by President Trump, it’s generally not allowed. As with most situations, officers need a valid reason to hold you or check for things like weapons or drugs on your person.
  • When can police search me? The search of your body and your property differs. Police need warrants to search your property. This means they need specific permission. A warrant to search your house does not apply to your car. For police to search your person, you need to either be under arrest or lawfully detained. In the latter case, you also have to have given the officer reason to believe it’s needed.

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