One of the most important things that people can do to protect their civil rights and stop illegal arrests is to request a warrant and stand firm when a police officer tries to enter their house.  In many cases, police rely on a defendant’s lack of knowledge of their rights to get them to volunteer to allow them inside or submit to arrest – but in some cases, police are allowed to arrest you without a warrant.  The Baltimore criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice discuss when police can arrest you at home and what happens when they knock on your door without a warrant.

Do Police Always Need a Warrant to Arrest Me at Home?

In general, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires police to have probable cause and a signed warrant any time they want to arrest someone or search their property.  In the real world, it isn’t always feasible for police to stop what they’re doing and go get a warrant, so the law has arrived at several excuses and exceptions where a warrant is unnecessary.

If police have probable cause that you committed a crime, they might be able to skip getting a warrant to arrest you.  Generally, this occurs when police find you in possession of something illegal or actually witness you committing a crime; no one is going to demand that they stop what they’re doing and get a warrant before arresting you.  This is the primary way that people are arrested for drug crimes and illegal weapon crimes.

For police to get a chance to find you committing a crime at your house, they must typically get into your house first.  This often happens with search warrants: police arrive at your house with permission from a judge to search if for certain evidence or contraband.  Even though they do not have an arrest warrant, they can still arrest you based on evidence that the search turns up.  Alternatively, police may get permission to search your house if you give them consent – which you typically should never do.

The other way that police can get around the warrant requirement is if there are emergency “exigent circumstances” that require quick action.  Typically, police can enter your home if there is a medical emergency, an officer is in danger, they are in “hot pursuit” of someone they think committed a crime, or they think that evidence is being destroyed inside.  This gives them an excuse to come into the house quickly.

Once inside your house legally, anything a police officer sees in plain view can be cause for an arrest, such as drugs sitting out on the table or a crime actively being committed in the house.  This is true whether they have a warrant or not.

When is it Illegal to Arrest Me in My House Without a Warrant?

As mentioned, police can only arrest you in your house without a warrant if they are already in your house for some legal reason.  Once there, they can arrest you for any crimes they find inside.  However, they must always have “probable cause” to arrest you.

This means that they must have more than just a suspicion that you committed a crime – they must have identifiable facts and evidence they can point to that show there was a crime committed and that you were responsible.  Without this evidence, they would not be able to get a warrant in the first place, and they cannot legally arrest you.

In some cases, police can put you in handcuffs to perform a search, but that does not necessarily qualify as an “arrest.”  This is typically done during a search if police think you will interfere with the search, flee from police, or destroy evidence.  This might not be considered an arrest, and you will not usually be booked or taken to jail unless they find evidence against you.  Still, your time in handcuffs should be limited and you should be treated fairly during the search.

How to Handle Cops at the Door

Police are used to all sorts of interactions when approaching someone’s door.  Generally, the best way to handle a police interaction is to answer the door when police knock and announce they are law enforcement.  Stay calm, keep your hands where the police can see them, and be polite.  If the police officer has a warrant, you may have no legal options to stop them from entering and searching the house.  If police do not have a warrant, you have every right under the Fourth Amendment to refuse to consent to a search, tell them they need a warrant, and tell them you want your lawyer present.

At that point, the police should either produce a warrant or leave.  If they do not leave, you likely have the right to politely close the door and go back inside your house.  As mentioned, destruction of evidence or any evidence of a crime that is in plain view can support a police officer’s entry into your house, so avoiding anything illegal or suspicious while police are outside is vital.

Talk to a criminal defense lawyer for help understanding your rights and getting specific information on how to handle these kinds of police encounters.

Call Our Baltimore Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one was arrested at their home – with or without a warrant – it is important to talk to a Baltimore criminal defense attorney about your case.  The Law Offices of Randolph Rice’s lawyers are available to schedule a free consultation and tell you more about how we might be able to fight the arrest, get evidence thrown out, and fight the charges you face.  For a free legal consultation, call us today at (410) 694-7291.