When The Knock Comes: Who Can Allow A Search?
Most people appreciate the comfort and privacy a home provides, and when something happens to shatter that perception, it's quite alarming. Law enforcement has certain rights to visit, enter, and search your home or other private spaces, but those rights must be tempered with your own rights. If you were not actually at home when that knock at the door occurred, the search may or may not have been legal. Read on to learn more about who can allow searches of private spaces.
When permission is not an issue
There are two different ways that searches can be carried out. One is by just appearing and requesting permission to search and the other is to show up with a search warrant. A search warrant is a document signed by a judge that shows probable cause to conduct a search of the premises. If you are handed a search warrant, don't just skim it over.
While experiencing this type of situation is undoubtedly stressful and upsetting, the search warrant contains important information about the reason for the warrant and the specific areas of your home that may be searched. A search warrant alone is not an open invitation for law enforcement to enter a dwelling and disturb or take what they want; they must follow the guidelines spelled out in the warrant. It's worth noting that verifying the address is of utmost importance since mistaken identity is all-too-common in these instances.
If you are home and law enforcement asks for permission to search your home, you have the right to say "no". They may return at a later time with a search warrant, however.
When you are not home
The rules about who can give permission to allow a search vary depending on who is in the residence at the time of the request. If the owner of record (the documented owner or lessee) is not home, and there is no search warrant present, then only a few people have the right to allow the search.
- Children: In most states, if the child is old enough to be left home alone, then they are old enough to allow (or disallow) a search. Children being cared for by an adult that is not a resident of the home (such as a caregiver) cannot give permission for a search if the child is minor-aged.
- Guests: While people who are temporary residents have no powers to allow a search of the home in general, they do have a right to allow a search of their personal belongings, like suitcases.
- Domestic help: Here, it depends on whether or not the housekeeper or other help lives in or comes and goes to their own residence at night. Live-ins can give permission for a search, but only in their own personal quarters.
- Roommates: These residents can only give permission to search their own private areas of the home.
- Domestic partners: Your romantic partner is considered a resident and has every right to allow a search of the entire home. They are said to be acting in your stead.
Illegal searches happen every day, so speak to a criminal law attorney for help if you are suffering the consequences of one such search.