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Knock knock. Who's there? It's the police and they'd like to do a search of your home.
Wait, that's not a joke and it's certainly not funny. Dealing with cops at the door is something most everyone wants to avoid. But once the cops have shown up at your house, is there anything you can do about it?
There's always something you can do when it comes to police interaction, even if it's just remembering what happens in order to tell your lawyer later. But whether police can search your home depends on what's happening.
The Fourth Amendment happily gives us protection against the unwarranted search and seizure of our belongings. That protection is strongest on private property, like in a home.
But unwarranted doesn't just mean "without a warrant." It requires that police have a reason to search, and courts have defined what reasons are acceptable.
Having a warrant to search your home gives police the broadest right to conduct a search. That's because to get the warrant, they already had to show a judge that there is probable cause.
By probable cause, that means there's reason to believe someone in the house should be arrested or that the property contains evidence of a crime.
If police can establish that, a judge will issue a warrant. With that document, the police have a right to search your property for whatever the warrant describes.
But even without a warrant, police can search your home in four specific circumstances that courts have outlined.
If there's no warrant and it's not one of the last three situations, you don't have to give police permission to do a search.
You have a legal right to politely decline when they ask to come in. And if something about a search seems strange, remember to tell your lawyer.