On March 18 at 1:15 a.m., the Calloway County Sheriff’s Department, in Kentucky, arrived at a private residence with an arrest warrant for a guy who did not reside at the residence, but whose vehicle was parked in the yard, undergoing maintenance by the homeowner. When the footage turns on, you’ll see police walking towards the husband slash homeowner. Then you’ll see the man’s wife come outside and ask for a warrant and also for the officers to leave the property.
This raises constitutional issues about whether law enforcement can enter and remain in someone’s front yard under these circumstances, where the home’s residents are present and asking them to leave. And where there is no arrest warrant for the home’s residents – nor a search warrant for that home? This also raises issues about whether police can detain those residents, including their guests, without their consent and in the absence of a search warrant? This is a common issue that most people misunderstand – especially police. Let’s look at this footage, which you haven’t seen anywhere else, and clear up the legal rights at issue.
NOTE: This footage was submitted anonymously and I really have no idea what the outcome was in the criminal case, or otherwise. One would hope that no convictions resulted from this, for reasons I explain in the video, as well as below….
Some of the applicable law discussed in the video:
According to the 1980 Supreme Court opinion in Payton v. New York, in order to legally arrest someone in a home, rather than in a public place, absent consent or exigent circumstances, police officers must have a warrant.
According to the 1984 Supreme Court opinion in Oliver v. United States, the heightened Fourth Amendment protections of the home extend beyond just the interior of the home itself into what’s called the “curtilage” of the home, which is the land immediately surrounding and associated with the home. Why? Because according to the Supreme Court, the curtilage is considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.
In the 2013 Supreme Court opinion of Florida v. Jardines, the Court held that a search undoubtedly occurs when the government, without a warrant, obtains information by physically intruding within the curtilage of a house, which in that actual case involved a home’s front porch. The Court cautioned that a search occurs unless a homeowner has explicitly or implicitly sanctioned the government’s physical intrusion into the constitutionally protected area, i.e., the yard and/or porch of the home.
Under the “knock and talk” exception to the warrant requirement, a police officer not armed with a warrant may approach a home and knock, precisely because that is “no more than any private citizen might do.” This means there is an “implicit license . . . to approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.” An officer may also bypass the front door (or another entry point usually used by visitors) when circumstances reasonably indicate that the officer might find the homeowner elsewhere on the property. “Critically, however, the right to knock and talk does not entail a right to conduct a general investigation of the home’s curtilage.”
The obvious difference between a police officer and a young girl selling girl scout cookies, is that many, if not most, homeowners have no idea whether they have any right to refuse to answer the door, or to ask the person to leave. Police like it this way. They don’t inform people of these rights, and the courts have ruled that they have no legal obligation to do so. You have to inform yourself and spread the word.
Police officers, and anyone else really, have an implied license to come onto your property and knock on your door. This implied license can be revoked. Homeowners can prevent ordinary citizens and police officers alike from conducting a knock and talk by revoking their implied license to be there. However, few citizens know that an implied license exists. Generally, the courts require that a homeowner do so by clear demonstrations or express orders. For instance, asking someone to leave or refusing to answer questions.