Monday, April 2, 2012

Your Rights Regarding Police "Knock and Talk" Contacts

Many people are unaware of their basic Constitutional rights when it comes to warrantless police contacts at the entrance of a residence. A recent Colorado Court of Appeals case, People v. Nelson, gives a comprehensive summary and review of these "knock-and-talk" situations.

Everyone knows that police can enter a home without consent if they have a valid search and/or arrest warrant. But what happens when the police show up at your door just wanting to "talk and have a look around?" In the Nelson case, police officers acting on a tip of illegal drug use, actually said they were maintenance personnel in an attempt to get Mr. Nelson to open the door of his apartment. Once Mr. Nelson opened the door, officers spied what appeared to be drug paraphernalia inside the apartment and another man running into the back of the apartment. Officers entered the apartment and arrested both Mr. Nelson and the other occupant. Officers then obtained consent from Mr. Nelson's girlfriend to search the rest of the apartment and conducted a search over Nelson's objection. Drugs and paraphernalia were found and the police later obtained a search warrant and a search of the entire apartment turned up more drugs and weapons.

The Court of Appeal held that the ruse of posing as maintenance personnel to get Nelson to open the door of his apartment was legally permissible, as long as it did not extend to coercing Nelson to actually admit the officers. The Court went on to justify the warrentless entry of the apartment by holding that it was reasonable for the officers to conclude that the man running was trying to flee, obtain a weapon or destroy evidence, and such circumstances established a need for immediate response. However, the Court held that the consent of the girlfriend to conduct a further warrantless search of the apartment after the arrest of Nelson and the other man was not valid because of Nelson's objection. Citing the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case of Georgia v. Randoph which held that consent to search a premises is not valid unless all residents present consent to the search, the Court held that evidence obtained from the consent search was inadmissible. However, the Court went to to hold that, even when discounting the suppressed evidence of the consent search, there was sufficient probable cause to justify the subsequent search warrant and the fruits thereof.

To summarize, police cannot enter a residence without a warrant unless the resident grants consent or exigent circumstances exist that necessitate immediate police entry and response. Police can use deception in getting someone to open the door, but cannot use deception in gaining consent for entry. The lessons from the Nelson case: 1) You should never open the door for someone you do not know; and 2) You never have to admit law enforcement into your home unless they present a valid warrant, and you never have to consent to police entry or search of your home.