California Penal Code 1531 PC allows law enforcement officers to break into a house to carry out a search warrant if
- the persons inside refuse to let them in, or
- if no one is home.
This is known as California’s knock-notice rule.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
1531. The officer may break open any outer or inner door or window of a house, or any part of a house, or anything therein, to execute the warrant, if, after notice of his authority and purpose, he is refused admittance.
When police secure a warrant to search a home, they must first knock and announce their presence and why they are there. If the people inside refuse to let them in, Penal Code 1531 permits the police to then force their way inside. Police are also allowed to break in if no one is home.1
If police break into an occupied home without first announcing themselves, any evidence they then uncover in the house is tainted by the unlawful search. And defendants in related criminal charges can ask the judge to suppress (disregard) the illegally-obtained evidence. And if the judge grants this motion to suppress, then the prosecutors may be left with too little evidence to sustain a conviction.2
Note that police may lawfully break into a home without first doing a “knock and announce” if there are exigent circumstances. Examples include that the suspect is fleeing from police, and the police reasonably believe that stopping to “knock and announce” will jeopardize gathering important evidence before the suspect can destroy it.3
- California Penal Code 1531 PC – Breaking door or window after admittance refused. Hart v. Superior Court, (1971) 21 Cal.App.3d 496.
- PC 1531. PC 1538.5. People v. Byers (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2016), 211 Cal. Rptr. 3d 590, 6 Cal. App. 5th 856.
- PC 1531. People v. Murphy, (2005) 37 Cal.4th 490.