Contrary to the belief of some, and to the image that’s sometimes portrayed on television, police officers cannot enter a private residence without a warrant or permission to do so. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the exceptions to this one are few and must be only in dire emergencies.
– A search warrant is valid only if it is issued pursuant to an affidavit stating each and every fact that establishes the probable to search for certain people and items. For example, the officer who is asking for a search warrant must apply for it by filling out a form, a sort of application, called an affidavit. This application (affidavit) must clearly explain every single reason why she wants to go to inside someone’s house without the owner’s permission, by breaking down the front door, if necessary.
Normally, the officer must swear to (under oath) the facts in her affidavit.
– The description of the place to be searched must be in vivid detail, almost down to the size and color of the doorknob. (I’m exaggerating – not much – , but you get the idea).
– Search warrants must be served promptly. Normally, there is a three or four day rule. If officers wait longer than that time frame the search may be ruled invalid.
– In most cases, officers are required to knock and announce their presence. (Knock, knock. “This is the police. I have a warrant to search this house. If you don’t open the door I’m going to huff, and puff, and… Well, you get the idea).
The exceptions to the knock and announce rule are if the officer has good reason to believe that:
1) There is a clear and present danger to himself and anyone else present, including people inside the house.
2) The delay of entry would cause irreparable harm to the investigation (evidence would be destroyed).
The easiest way to serve a search warrant is to knock on the door and wait for someone to answer. This is definitely the safest way to serve a search warrant. Unfortunately, the bad guys don’t always play by the rules
If no one answers the door in a reasonable amount of time (Normally a few seconds – 15 seconds or so) police officers are legally permitted to damage property, if that’s what is required, to gain entry.