Can the cops break down my door to enter my home?

As a general rule, cops can never break down your door to enter your home in a forced entry. Before entering your home, officers must knock, announce their presence, and wait for you to come to the door like you would for any other visitor. This requirement is called the “knock-and-announce” rule. This purpose of this rule is to allow people an opportunity to respond so that violence can be averted and privacy protected. Keep in mind, however, that this is only a general rule. Once the cops knock and announce their presence, they only have to wait a reasonable amount of time for you to come to the door. If you do not come to the door, they are permitted to make a forced entry.

The issue that usually arises is what is a reasonable time for officers to wait before a forced entry? The Supreme Court has upheld forced entries after the cops only waited 15-20 seconds. Courts don’t generally require the police to wait for extended periods because of concerns that defendants will try to dispose of evidence before the police enter. If the police do not knock and announce as required, most courts will not automatically find that the police entry and search were illegal. Instead, they will just consider it a “factor” in determining whether the forced entry in your home and subsequent search were reasonable.

First Exception to the Knock and Announce Rule: Exigency

Even though officers should knock and announce their presence before they break down a door or carry out another forced entry, exceptions apply. The first type is based on exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances describe an emergency situation. For example, if officers have a warrant to search for drugs in your house, they knock and then immediately hear flushing (activity consistent with the disposal of drugs); they can break down your door and enter your house without announcing their presence or waiting for you to answer. Another common exigent or emergency situation is when the police have been called to your house because of a domestic dispute. If they hear threats or screams coming from inside your home which would lead the officers to believe that someone was in danger, then officers are permitted to break down your door and enter your home to protect a victim or carry out another type of forced entry.

Second Exception: Permission

The second type of exception to the knock-and-announce rule is written permission granted by a judge. The courts have excused the knock-and-announce rule in drug raids where the officers know the suspect may have large dogs, a security system or have a history of violence. The officer must explain to the judge why it would be dangerous for officers to announce their presence. If the court thinks their fear is justified, he will grant them advance permission for a forced entry, allowing them to break down your door and enter your home to conduct a search or an arrest.

Whether the entry into your home is forced or peaceful, stay calm and asked for a copy any warrants. As soon as possible, contact an attorney so s/he can review the warrant and basis for the warrant to ensure that your rights were protected.