A cop knocking at your door is no different than a Jehovah’s witness knocking on your door on a Saturday morning. You don’t have to open the door unless the cop has a warrant, or you like Jehovah’s witnesses. Only if he has a warrant issued by a judge can he forcibly enter. Some warrants have a ‘no knock’ provision – those are included when there’s an articulable fear that evidence may be destroyed, such as drug cases. Or it might be included in a case where there may be guns involved, to ensure the safety of the officers. It’s common sense that if you know that there are bad guys with guns inside, you don’t want to knock.
Then there are exigent circumstances, when you don’t need a warrant. For example, you hear screaming coming from a house. You knock and no one answers, and you fear someone is hurt or being assaulted. Or you hear gunshots coming from inside a house, or you’re chasing an armed perp and he runs into a house. Those are situations where you don’t need a warrant to enter. In exigent circumstances, you have to be able to articulate why you did this and why stopping and requesting a warrant would not have been practical, feasible, or in the best interest of public or officer safety. Think about the OJ case when the detectives jumped over his fence and entered his property without a warrant. They articulated that they believed that there was a possibility that other individuals may have been injured at OJ’s house.
The reason these rules exist is because the 4th amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches. It says: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
But now with the Supreme Court’s decision, there is major potential for police abuse – it’s much easier to circumvent the warrant process and the requirement for probable cause. So many times when I worked narcotics, we came across locations that we knew were drug houses or stash houses, but we didn’t have enough probable cause to get a warrant. There was nothing we could do but build our probable cause. Now a cop in the same situation can say he knocked on a door to investigate a complaint, bogus of course, from a source, anonymous of course, then say that he thought he heard the sounds of someone destroying evidence and kick in the door.
What does “destroying evidence” sound like anyway? The only thing I can think of would be for drug cases, the flushing of a toilet or running water in a sink. And there are plenty of reasons besides destroying evidence that someone might be flushing a toilet or running water in their home.
Just imagine being home one night while the kids are at grandma’s house. Your neighbor thinks that he sees a prowler in your backyard and calls the police. Mean while it’s been a long time since you and your old lady had any alone time and you’re getting busy on the dining room table. All of a sudden, you hear a knock on your door and the words “Police open the door.” You jump up in a frantic panic. She beelines to the bathroom. Meanwhile the cops hear the movement of the table and chairs, your old lady running into the bathroom slamming the door and flushing the toilet. One cop says to the other, Joe they’re flushing the coke down the toilet, and they proceed to kick down your door. You’re standing there with your pants around your ankles. A bit of an exaggeration maybe, but you get the point.
It’s true that this ruling back then would have made it much easier to do our jobs. But it’s still wrong. It’s opening the door for a lot of abuse and the violation of an individual’s expectation of privacy in his or her home. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent: “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and …forcibly enter?”