Can the police enter a home without knocking?

Whether the police can enter a home without knocking and announcing themselves depends on the circumstances. Many states have laws that require law enforcement officers to “knock and announce.” The knock and announce rule requires law enforcement officers with a warrant who are investigating a crime to knock and announce their purpose and identity, and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering an area. This rule was originally put in place to guard against the privacy rights of the individuals subject to the search warrant, as well as to limit property damage. 

Exigent Circumstance Exception to Knock and Announce Requirement

Most states allow the police to either ignore the “waiting” requirement of the knock and announce rule, or ignore the rule all together if exigent circumstances exist at the scene of the search warrant. Exigent circumstances are exceptions to the knock and announce rule. Exigent circumstances mean there is some type of emergency requiring the police to enter right away without delay, such as when the officers’ safety is at risk, or the police believe that the suspects are destroying evidence.   

For example, suppose the police obtain a search warrant for a house which they believe contains a meth lab. Now suppose they arrive at a house with the search warrant, and as they are approaching the door, they hear people scrambling around inside the house. This could lead the police to believe that the people inside have been notified of their presence, and are destroying evidence of the meth lab inside. Under these exigent circumstances, the police may force their way into the home to keep the suspects from destroying the evidence. However, whether or not exigent circumstances actually existed when the police barged through the door without knocking will ultimately be up to the court to decide. Police may also obtain a “no-knock” warrant if they can show that warning occupants when they arrive to execute the warrant would put them or others in great danger. 

Consequences of Knock and Announce Rule Violations

When the police violate the knock and announce rule by barging into an individual’s home without notice, the individuals against which the search warrant was enforced may or may not have a remedy, depending on the state and the circumstances of the violation. When courts are faced with violations of the knock and announce rule, they typically examine the circumstances to determine whether exigent circumstances existed to allow the police to ignore the rule. 

If a court determines that the police have indeed violated the knock and announce rule, the individuals may be able to get compensation through a lawsuit against the police for property damage. Police who violate the knock and announce rule may also be subject to administrative penalties. However, in most states and in all federal courts, evidence found as a result of a violation of the knock and announce rule will usually be allowed in at trial. 

For example, let’s take our meth lab situation again. Suppose after the police hear the scrambling around in the home, the police force their way in by breaking a sliding glass door. The police then learn that the “scrambling around” that they heard was actually two dogs playing by the door, and the residents of the home were instead sleeping in another room. However, the police see the meth lab equipment, and quickly seize the evidence and arrest the individuals sleeping in their bed. The police in this case failed to knock and announce their presence, and no exigent circumstances existed to allow them to break through the individual’s door. However, even if the judge determines that the police violated the knock and announce rule in this situation, the meth lab equipment will most likely be allowed in as evidence against the individuals at trial. On the other hand, some states do allow evidence to be suppressed when the knock and announce rule is violated. In these rare cases, the violation must be egregious to keep evidence from being used in trial against a suspect.