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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2015 > Proper Protocol (Knock and Talk): Carroll v. Carman

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Proper Protocol (Knock and Talk): Carroll v. Carman


Question: Does a knock and talk have to begin at the front door of a residence?

Quick Answer:Although the question was not directly answered by the court, the opinion seems to give you the ability to make the determination about whether a door is one that is primarily used by the general public. If you are able to make that determination, you should probably get a warrant.

Carroll v. Carman, United States Supreme Court, 3rd Cir., Nov. 10, 2014

Facts: Police received a report that Michael Zita had stolen a car with two loaded handguns and was hiding at the home of Andrew and Karen Carman. Officer Jeremy Carroll and a second officer arrived separately to the Carman’s home, which sat on a corner lot. Parking was not available in the front of the house, so both officers parked on a gravel parking area on the side of the property. They exited their cars and first came upon a small structure with an open door and light on inside. No one was inside so they walked toward the house, stepped onto a ground-level deck, and approached a glass sliding door—which they knocked on. Mr. Carman came out of the house in an aggressive manner. Carroll explained they were looking for Zita, and Mr. Carman refused to answer. Instead he reached for his waist. Carroll grabbed his right arm, and Mr. Carman twisted away, causing him to lose balance and fall into the yard. Mrs. Carman then came out, identified herself and her husband. Carroll asked her if Zita was there, and she said no. The officers then asked for permission to search the home. Mrs. Carman consented. Zita was not in the home, and the Carmans were not charged with any crimes.

The Carmans sued Carroll under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating their Fourth Amendment by entering the backyard and deck without a warrant. Carroll argued that the knock and talk exception to the warrant requirement allowed him to approach the door. The Carmans disagreed arguing that the sliding door was not one the general public would use. Instead, they said the officers should have knocked on the front door.

Importance: The question the officer specifically asked the U.S. Supreme Court to answer was whether there was a front door rule—meaning do you have to start at the front door. The court does not actually answer this question. Instead, it held that Carroll was entitled to qualified immunity because he believed the side door was one used by the general public. What the court did do was examine other cases when officers started the knock and talk at a secondary door. These examples seem to support the ability of the officer to make her own determination about whether a door is accessible to the public.

  • In Estate of Smith v. Marasco, the court held that an unsuccessful knock and talk at the front door does not automatically allow officers to go onto other parts of the property. But, it did not say that knocking on the front door is required before officers go onto other parts of the property that are open to visitors.
  • In United States v. Titemore, a police officer approached a house that had two doors. The first was a traditional door that opened onto a driveway; the second was a sliding glass door that opened onto a small porch. The officer chose to knock on the glass door. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer had unlawfully entered his property without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Second Circuit rejected the appeal, finding the sliding glass door was a primary entrance visible to and used by the public.
  • In United States v. James, police officers approached a duplex with multiple entrances. Bypassing the front door, the officers used a paved walkway along the side of the duplex leading to the rear side door. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they went to the rear side door. The Seventh Circuit rejected that argument, explaining that the rear side door was accessible to the general public and was commonly used for entering the duplex from the nearby alley. In situations where the back door of a residence is readily accessible to the general public, the Fourth Amendment is not implicated when police officers approach that door in the reasonable belief that it is a principal means of access to the dwelling.

Keep in mind: In practice, it may be best to start at the front door. If you can’t determine where the front door is, or are met with multiple doors that could generally be accessed by the public, you can get a warrant or, if there is no time, document why you chose the door you did. For example, stating you followed a path from the sidewalk to a door on the side of the home gives more detail about the conditions that led to your choice. A path from the sidewalk seems like it invites visitors to that door rather than if you walk through the grass and onto a deck to knock on a rear door.

More on Proper Protocol

Miranda and a 9-year-old: You respond to a call in a nearby apartment complex. Once you arrive you find a 9-year-old who has been accused by his aunt of raping his mentally and physically disabled adult cousin. His parents claim the aunt assaulted the 9-year-old. Because many people had gathered and it was a sensitive topic, you motion for the child to come talk to you privately. The child says yes and you look to the mother, who gestures in a manner indicating consent. You walk a short distance away, about 20 feet, and stand in front of your cruiser.  You speak to the child for 30 minutes and do not handcuff him or place him inside the cruiser. He tells you what happened, giving inconsistent stories, then says he cannot remember much of the time he was alone with the cousin in the apartment. You release the child to his mother’s custody. Did you violate the child’s rights by not giving Miranda? The court in In re R.L. said no. There was no basis to conclude that the child had been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom during the conversation. Additionally, his mother was a few feet away and gave consent. In re R.L., Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Nov. 14, 2014

BAC and tobacco: You arrest a suspect for OVI and take him to the jail for a breath test. Prior to giving the test you ask the suspect to remove tobacco from his mouth. Unknown to you, he only spits part of it out and leaves the rest in his mouth, swallowing some of the tobacco juice. After 20 minutes, you perform the test. Are the results valid? The court in Shockey said yes. Although Douglas Shockey decided to keep some of the tobacco in his mouth and swallow juices during the 20-minute period, the officers sustainably complied with the law. They asked him to remove the material, saw him remove material, and during the 20-minute period did not observe him place anything into his mouth. Shockey never informed the officers that the tobacco was in his mouth and did not provide any evidence that the tobacco impacted the test results. Even though the results were considered good, as a best practice it may be wise to look into the suspect’s mouth to verify they have all of the substance out before starting the 20-minute clock. State of Ohio v. Shockey, Third Appellate District, Marion County, Nov. 10, 2014

Out of Virginia—Fingerprint scans and Smart Phones: A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled that police officers cannot force criminal suspects to divulge cellphone passwords, but they can force them to unlock the phone with a fingerprint scanner. The court said that a fingerprint is more like providing a DNA or handwriting sample, or an actual key, which the law permits. A passcode, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against. If applied by other courts, the ruling could become important as more device makers incorporate fingerprint readers that can be used as alternatives to passwords. For example, Apple introduced fingerprint technology last year in its iPhone 5S and Samsung included it in its Galaxy S5. To read the opinion and news article, click here.