For most law-abiding people, interactions with police officers are likely few and far between. Maybe you’ve been pulled over and given a ticket for speeding or taken to the drunk tank after having a few too many drinks at the bar. Whatever your experience though, the powers given to members of law enforcement are sweeping and sometimes extraordinary when they’re in the midst of an investigation.
Not only can they detain people and deprive them of their liberty without charges if they have a reasonable suspicion you’ve been involved in committing a crime, but they can also restrict your access to your own home under certain circumstances. But when is that the case? In what situations can cops not let you inside your house?
Can the police enter your property but you can’t?
If you’ve been arrested and brought to jail on a minor charge, police will likely agree to release you back into the community if you sign what’s known as an undertaking. When you sign an undertaking, the police will make you agree to abide by certain conditions in order to let you out of jail. In cases of domestic violence, a likely condition of your release will be to have no contact with your partner. So, if you live together, the undertaking will often allow you to visit your home just one time to pick up your belongings.
After that, your home and your partner’s place of work and even your children’s school could be off limits as a so-called “no-go” zone for the duration of the undertaking. It could be months before your charges make it to court, and depending on the conditions of your release, it’s likely that you’ll be unable to ever return to your former home even if you’re found not guilty at trial. Minor charges of assault, however, are more than likely to be resolved without the need for a lengthy and costly trial. But that doesn’t mean the upheaval in the short term will be any easier to deal with, especially if you’re forced to scramble to find new housing due to the looming criminal charges.
Know your rights when it comes to a police search
If you’ve been arrested and charged with a criminal offence, your best first step once you’ve been let out of jail is to find a criminal defence lawyer. While you may have been given access to a free duty counsel lawyer while locked up, they may not have provided you with much legal information beyond telling you not to answer any questions posed by police. An experienced criminal defence lawyer who can give you legal advice and help you understand your rights is key to ensuring fair treatment from a justice system that is far from perfect. Moreover, getting a good lawyer is likely your best line of defence because avoiding a criminal record is extremely important since it can limit your job prospects and your mobility when it comes to travelling internationally.
For people involved in alleged intimate partner violence cases, courts will often hand down no-contact orders to prevent an accused abuser from seeing their partner and children. If you’re placed under a no-contact order, that means you can’t go anywhere near your own home or your partner’s workplace.
While you can apply to vary or change the conditions of the order, criminal courts will often issue blanket conditions on an accused person to prevent them from simply showing up back at home to continue the violence and strife. When there are children involved though, proceedings in criminal courts will often intersect with proceedings in family courts as well. The latter will end up dealing with custody issues and parenting agreements, while the former deals with more serious matters where abuse is alleged.
Criminal activity and police powers
But after an incident of family violence occurs, it’s the duty of police officers to step in and use their powers to protect the alleged victim from further potential abuse. If they believe someone is still a threat, the use of undertakings, restraining orders, and no contact orders are every day in such cases to keep volatile and potentially violent individuals from their alleged victims.
However, in family violence situations aside, police officers are allowed to restrict access to any spaces, including your own home, in certain situations. If they are in so-called “hot pursuit” of a criminal suspect, in other words actively chasing them down the street, should the person being chased run through your house to try to escape, the police don’t need a warrant to enter your home to continue pursuing the person. Should your home become a crime scene, they can also order you out of your home while they collect evidence as part of their investigation. Any attempt to obstruct them could land you in jail and charge with obstruction of justice, or other offences.
For many people, the inconvenience of not being allowed in their own homes due to police activity could range from minor to extreme. If the police don’t have a warrant, for example, they can still enter your home in cases of so-called “exigent circumstances.”
If they believe someone is being hurt or if the property is being damaged, they don’t need a warrant to enter a residence as long as they have “reasonable grounds” to believe public safety or an individual’s safety is potentially at risk. Under normal circumstances, the police usually have to present evidence in court to a justice of the peace or judge to justify issuing a search warrant or arrest warrant since entering a private residence is, at its heart, an invasion of someone’s privacy.
Understand private property and probable cause rules
By no means though are all warrants sacred and legal. It may be a rare occurrence since the evidentiary burden to obtain a warrant is somewhat high, but if it’s found to have been issued improperly on thin or non-existent evidence, courts can and have tossed out illegally issued warrants along with any evidence collected during the improper search and seizure.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon law enforcement officers to make sure that everything is done by the book when investigating a crime. Their powers are sweeping but far from absolute, and police misconduct in recent years has come into sharp focus in the public eye.
There’s no doubt that public safety issues are often a top-of-mind concern for many people these days. The fear of violent crime and the way society deals with people found guilty of such offences continue to be a subject of seemingly endless debate.
But on the other hand, the conduct of police officers deserves at least equal scrutiny since their ability to abuse the powers vested in them by the state should by no means go unchecked. In free and democratic societies where constitutions entrench the rights of citizens according to the rule of law, holding people accountable for wrongdoing is key to a functioning and healthy society whether someone wears a badge or not.
We hope you found this guide on “can cops not let you inside your house” helpful. Let us know your questions and comments below.
Below are some other things that you should think about:
- Ask for the badge number of the police officer
- Talk to a lawyer about criminal law and homeowner rights
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