There’s a loud knock on your front door, your dog starts barking, and you hear a stern voice outside proclaim: “This is the police. We have a search warrant for the premises.”
At that moment, what should you do? Should you open the door? Invite the police in? Refuse them entry? Here are some do’s and don’ts when you are confronted with police claiming to have a search warrant for you home.
- DON’T be confrontational. You have rights, and you should not be afraid to exercise them when appropriate, but as you do so you should remain calm and respectful to the officers. Police can use “reasonable force” to enter your home, and if you try to stop a legal search, you can be charged with obstructing the police. You have no obligation to assist the officers, but antagonizing, yelling, or otherwise acting confrontational will do you no favors and could undermine legitimate challenges you may have to the validity of the warrant or the search.
- DO inspect the warrant before entry. If the police don’t show you the search warrant, ask to see it so you can make sure it is valid and so you can understand the scope of the warrant. Check for the following information:
- the premises and specific areas covered;
- the date and time which the warrant permits the police to be present on your property to conduct a search;
- the specific documents or objects that are being searched for;
If the warrant specifies only certain areas of your property, those are the only areas the police should be permitted to search and you should not consent to a search beyond the specified areas. If the warrant specifies they are looking for assault weapons, they should not be looking in jewelry boxes or small drawers.
- DON’T say anything. You have the right to remain silent, and you should exercise that right. Say as little as possible. Don’t ask questions (other than asking to see the warrant), don’t answer questions, don’t argue with the officers, and don’t make any admissions.
- DO record the entire search. If possible, record the search on your cell phone or other video camera. The conduct of the officers must be reasonable as they engage in their search, and if they act unreasonably or exceed the scope of the warrant, the recording could be used by your lawyer to attack the validity of the search. It could also be used in a claim for any damage done to your property during the search.
- DO contact a criminal defence lawyer. In many criminal cases, one of the critical challenges to the prosecution’s case is the validity of the arrest and any searches conducted by the police. Because evidence that is unlawfully gathered can be suppressed, it is critical to determine if the police engaged in an improper search. Call an experienced criminal defence lawyer at the earliest opportunity to discuss your options and next steps after the search.
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Criminal lawyers Bruce Engel and Elena Davies have represented individuals and businesses charged with hundreds of different offences throughout Canada for more than two decades. From the start of a criminal investigation to the close of a trial, we will take a balanced and forceful approach to your defence. We have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the constantly changing justice system in Canada.
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