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When can police search an apartment?

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On a day-to-day basis, most of us do not give the Constitution that much thought. We know it is there to guarantee and protect our rights, but outside of this, many of us simply go about our days without really thinking about it -- that is -- until we learn the police were at our son or daughter's college apartment.

Now, we do have a few questions.

Can the police just enter a home?

No. A police officer cannot just go into someone's home and start looking around. This would be a violation of the fourth amendment, which protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizure."

Unfortunately, your son or daughter may not have known this. Or, they may have known this, but felt intimidated when the police showed up at their door and weren't quite sure what to do.

When can police enter a home?

There are a number of different scenarios when an officer can legally enter a home. These include:

  • When the officer has a search warrant
  • When the officer is given verbal consent, like if your son or daughter said it was OK to search
  • If the officer can see illegal activity, or an illegal item, on the property
  • If someone is being arrested, the officer can search the surrounding area.
  • In certain emergency situations

Is denying consent the same as admitting guilt?

This is where a lot of college students panic. There is a common misconception that saying, "No. You cannot search without a warrant" is the same as admitting guilt. This is not true.

Exercising your Fourth Amendment right is not only completely legal to do, it's even encouraged. Rather than opening the door to suspicion and accusations, it makes more sense to decline entrance and politely decline answering questions until a lawyer is present.

What if the apartment was already searched without consent?

If you are hearing about the search after the fact, now is the time to take action. If it is determined that your son or daughter's Fourth Amendment rights were violated, there is a possibility that any evidence obtained will be thrown out.

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