In California, when the police come to your door to execute a warrant, they must knock first, announce their presence and purpose, and wait a reasonable amount of time before choosing to enter the premises by force.
This is what is commonly called the knock-and-announce rule. The rule does not interfere with the police's ability to conduct an effective investigation. If police violate this rule, any evidence the police obtain from their search may be declared inadmissible in court.
This rule is designed to keep police from barging into homes unannounced. It acknowledges the legal right of people to know when police are entering their homes.
If police know nobody is home, they don't have to knock and announce themselves. To comply with the knock and announce rule, law enforcement officers must:
- Knock on the door,
- Announce they are the police, and
- Allow residents a reasonable amount of time to open the door.
After the door has been opened, police must tell the occupant they possess a search warrant or an arrest warrant. This must be done before they enter. Police can't forcibly enter unless they are refused entry or a reasonable amount of time has passed, which is discussed in greater detail below.
There are some exceptions to the rule under California's search and seizure laws, such as the consent of a resident and executing the warrant in a public place. Our California criminal defense lawyers will look more closely at the knock-and-announce rule and how it protects you as a possible defendant.
Overview of Knock and Announce
The knock-and-announce rule is a longstanding rule of common law that effectively enforces your Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure and your right to privacy. In the State of California, knock-and-announce is effectively codified by California Penal Code 1531 PC, which says:
- "The police officer may break open any outer or inner door or window of a house, or any part of a house, or anything therein, to execute the warrant if, after notice of his authority and purpose, he is refused admittance."
While PC 1531 gives the conditions under which the officer may forcibly enter, it indirectly refers to knocking and announcing via "notice of his authority and purpose." The officer may not forcibly enter unless they give this notice first.
Police don't need to knock and announce if there are exigent circumstances, such as situations where evidence could be destroyed, if it gives residents time to arm themselves, or suspect is fleeing the scene.
When Can the Police Enter Forcibly?
As noted, the police may enter your premises forcibly ONLY after knocking and announcing in the following circumstances:
- If no one answers after a reasonable amount of time has passed; or
- If you refuse them entry.
The amount of time considered a "reasonable amount" is ambiguous, but it is generally decided based on the circumstances. For example, if the police are executing the warrant in the middle of the night, a longer wait time may be expected than if they were coming during daylight hours.
Likewise, if it is a larger building, they must allow someone to move from one part of the building to the other. Thus, the courts consider several factors in considering a reasonable amount of time, such as:
- Type of crime under investigation,
- Type of evidence in the search warrant,
- Observations by police regarding quick entry,
- Size of the building and the time of day.
What Are the Exceptions to the Rule?
Police are generally allowed to bypass the knock and announce rule in any of the following general situations:
- If they know (or have reason to believe), nobody is at home. If law enforcement has reliable information that no one is home, they may enter without knocking;
- If they have your prior consent. If you open the door and invite the police in before they have the chance to knock—or if you have previously given permission—the knock-and-announce rule is no longer applicable;
- If the search is executed in public. Police do not have to knock and announce if they search a public place;
- If there are other exigent circumstances. For example, if the police believe someone's life is in danger, or if they think you are using the "reasonable time" to arm yourself, flee, or destroy evidence, they may ignore the knock-and-announce rule.
What Happens if Police Violate the Knock and Announce Rule?
If law enforcement does not adhere to the knock and announce rule, and if none of the exceptions apply, any evidence they find during their search may be rendered inadmissible in court.
This means that even if the police have a warrant, if they did not knock and announce before entering, anything they find during their searches—such as weapons, drugs, or stolen property—could not be used against you in a criminal trial.
The "Substantial Compliance" Principle
As you can probably tell by the exceptions named above and by ambiguous terms such as "reasonable amount of time," knock and announce is not a hard and steadfast rule.
If a defendant claims the rule was violated, the courts typically look for "substantial compliance" from the officers involved. In short, substantial compliance means that if the officers reasonably complied with the rule, the courts may still allow evidence found during the search even if minor violations occurred.
Could My Charges Be Dismissed over a Violation?
Not necessarily. Actual violations of the knock and announce rule only mean that the evidence collected during the search cannot be admitted as evidence; it does not negate your charges.
However, if the only evidence prosecutors have against you is evidence obtained in an illegal search (e.g., by a knock-and-announce violation), there's a more substantial chance your charges will be dropped.
Readers should note that just because law enforcement obtained a search warrant doesn't always mean it was valid. You have a legal right against unreasonable searches and seizures regarding warrants.
Perhaps we can prove the warrant lacked sufficient probable cause or was too broad to describe where police were allowed to search. We will closely review the details to determine the best possible outcome strategy. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. Contact us at (310) 328-3776 for an initial consultation or use the contact form.