If a suspect opens his door when officers knock, can the officers enter the home and arrest the suspect without a warrant?
No. An officer who enters a home without a warrant in order to arrest a suspect violates the suspect’s constitutional rights.
Adrian Maddox was stopped by an officer in the area of a reported break-in. Although he was questioned by the officer, he ultimately was released because there was nothing to link him to the crime. Later, when the police reviewed video surveillance of the break-in, they saw that the suspect wore clothes similar to the ones Maddox had been wearing. Three days later, officers went to Maddox’s building to arrest him, without a warrant. Maddox opened his door when the officers knocked, but then did not respond to their question about whether he was alone, other than to look over his shoulder. The officers placed Maddox under arrest inside his apartment because Maddox had stepped back into his hallway. They then searched the apartment and discovered additional evidence.
The court found that the officers breached the sanctity of Maddox’s home by entering his apartment and placing him under arrest without a warrant.
Why this case is important:
Some courts have held that when a person voluntarily exposes themselves to arrest (that is, by opening their door to police), a warrant is not necessary to enter and arrest. However, the Eighth District disagreed, particularly under the facts of this case. Here, the officers were in plain clothes and did not announce themselves as officers when they knocked. So, a reasonable homeowner in Maddox’s situation would not have known he was opening the door to police in the first place.
But more importantly, the court determined a person is not consenting to allow an officer to enter his house and arrest him even if he knows there are police on the other side of the door. The court noted that most people will open their door to the police, but that does not mean they are consenting to the police entering.
Keep in mind:
The court in this case agreed that there was probable cause to arrest the suspect, but found that the officers nonetheless violated the Constitution by entering the suspect’s house without a warrant. When deciding how to approach a warrantless interaction, you should try to imagine yourself in a similar situation. For example, if a salesman knocked on your door, you might open it, talk with the salesman briefly, and close the door to terminate the conversation. This is, essentially, what a knock-and-talk is. But if the salesman stepped into your house without your permission (as the officers did here), you would probably consider him an intruder. So, if you are doing something different than what a common homeowner would expect in a normal civilian interaction, you should get a warrant.
View the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals website
to view the entire opinion.