Law Enforcement Action List

Hearing the police knocking at your door is alarming for anyone, whether you think there’s a reason you could be arrested or not. It’s common to feel panicked and give the police more information and access to your home than you need to. Remembering the steps in this law enforcement action list can help you avoid common mistakes and get the best possible outcome.

1. Seek the Help of an Experienced Attorney

Whether the police are asking for permission to search your home, have placed you under arrest or there is a chance you might be arrested, your first step should always be to contact a defense attorney. Police know how to get suspects to incriminate themselves. Your attorney can help you avoid doing this. They’ll ensure that you understand all the documents you choose to sign and what the consequences of signing them could be. If you haven’t been arrested, they’ll help you confirm whether there is a warrant for your arrest or to search your home. If there is, they’ll help you decide how to proceed.

2. Don’t Answer the Door (Unless There’s a Warrant)

Unless the police have a search warrant or an arrest warrant, they cannot enter your home without your permission. If the police come to your door and ask if they can search your home, you don’t need to allow them to do so. Once you consent to a search, the police can legally perform one without the need for a warrant. While you may feel confident that there’s nothing suspicious in your home, you could be mistaken for several reasons. Someone else might have left something that you weren’t aware of, or an item could be used as evidence against you in a way you couldn’t have predicted. If you agree to a search, you won’t be able to control its scope or what the police might find.

If the police don’t have a warrant, the safest option is not to answer the door. If you open the door and let a police officer in to talk, anything in plain view could be used against you, including as justification for a future search warrant.

3. Ask to See the Warrant (if There Is One)

If the police do have a warrant, ask to see it. Ideally, ask if the officers will slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can read the document without opening the door. An arrest warrant includes the name of the person the police are looking to arrest. A search warrant specifies the location the police want to search and what they’re searching for. Sometimes checking the warrant provides the opportunity to clear up a mistake. For example, the police might have a search warrant for your neighbor’s house and have gone to the wrong place. If the warrant is correct and does refer to you, you’ll need to open the door. Don’t resist; this will likely allow the police to enter by force.

4. Be Polite but Assertive  

When the police come to your home, the best approach is to find a balance between asserting your rights and cooperating. Being courteous rather than hostile can reduce the risk of the situation escalating. If you’re being arrested, don’t resist. Resisting arrest can lead to additional criminal charges, even if the initial arrest was unlawful or you aren’t found guilty of those charges. If police attempt a search that you don’t consent to, don’t try to physically stop them. You won’t succeed and will probably face injuries and additional criminal charges instead. At the same time, you don’t need to agree to do everything the police ask. For example, if there’s a search warrant for your home, the police might also ask to search your car. If the car isn’t listed on the warrant, you don’t need to agree to this additional search.

5. Don’t Say Anything

If the police have questions about a potential crime, you don’t need to answer them. If you’re arrested, other than identifying yourself and telling the police that you’re exercising your right to remain silent, don’t talk. You should never answer questions without your lawyer. Many people want to explain themselves, especially if they feel they’re being arrested because of a misunderstanding. It’s easy to accidentally incriminate yourself during this kind of explanation, so it’s best to stay silent regardless of the circumstances. If you’re arrested, remember that the police are probably listening to or recording your conversations with visitors and other inmates and your phone calls. Only conversations with your lawyer have legal protections that require they be excluded from monitoring. 

6. Don’t Sign Any Documents

Just as you avoided answering any questions without a lawyer present, so to should you avoid signing any documents with your attorney’s advice. This applies whether you’ve been arrested or the police are at your door asking for consent for a voluntary search. Either of these situations is stressful and the stress can make it more difficult for you to understand what you’re signing. This makes it easy to agree to a search without meaning to or admit to something that can make defending yourself more difficult later on.

7. Document What Happened

Documentation is especially important if you think your rights may have been violated, but it’s a good idea after any encounter with the police, particularly if they searched your home. If you were arrested, you probably won’t have the opportunity to make notes for a while, but you can tell your lawyer what happened as soon as possible. If, for example, your home was searched but you weren’t arrested, write down as much as you can remember right away while your memories are fresh. This should include officer names, your questions about the warrant, what was searched for, and whether anything was seized. If police gathered evidence against you based on an illegal search, they usually won’t be able to use that evidence in court. Talk to your attorney if you have any questions about whether the search was legitimate.

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