The knock and announce rule requires police to announce their presence and purpose before executing a search warrant. The rule keeps police from barging into homes. Officers must knock on the door and announce themselves. Then they must wait a reasonable amount of time before forcing their way in.
It is also referred to as the knock and notice rule.
There are some exceptions to the rule. The most important include:
- the consent of a resident,
- the warrant is being executed in a public place, and
- there are exigent circumstances.
Breaking the knock and announce rule can make a search or seizure illegal. Some states, including California, will exclude evidence found in violation of the rule.
How do police comply with the rule?
To comply with the knock and announce rule, police officers have to:
- knock on the door,
- announce that they are a law enforcement officer, and
- give the occupants a reasonable amount of time to open the door.
In California, courts have only required “substantial compliance” with these rules.2 Minor violations may not break it. In determining whether police substantially complied with the rule, courts look to whether they:
- infringed on the occupant's privacy,
- put innocent people in danger,
- increased the chances of violence, or
- protected themselves from a startled occupant.3
Police can only force their way inside once:
- a reasonable amount of time has passed, or
- the occupant has refused entry.
What is a reasonable amount of time?
Police have to wait a reasonable amount of time before forcing their way inside. What a reasonable amount of time is will depend on the situation. Courts look to numerous factors, including:
- the size and layout of the building,
- the time of day,
- the suspected offense that is being investigated,
- the type of evidence in the search warrant, and
- any observations that make police think they have to enter quickly.4
Example: Police knock and announce themselves. They hear footsteps running away from the door. Even though they have only waited 4 or 5 seconds, they force their way inside.5
What if no one is home?
If police know that no one is home, they do not have to knock and announce themselves.
If police knock on the door and announce themselves, but no one lets them in within a reasonable amount of time, they can force entry to execute the warrant.6
Are there exceptions to the knock and announce rule?
There are several exceptions to the knock and notice rule:
- public areas, and
- exigent circumstances.
When one of these exceptions is in play, the police do not have to knock and announce their presence and purpose.
Consent of the occupant
When an occupant consents to the officers' entry, they do not need to knock and announce themselves. This can happen if:
- an occupant lets police in before they can knock on the door, or
- the suspect has waived his rights, already.
Example: James is on parole. He has agreed to the terms of his release. One of those terms is to consent to random police searches.7
The search is done in public
Police do not need to knock and announce themselves if they are searching a public place.
This exception usually applies to search warrants for stores. If the store is open to the public, police can enter without knocking.
There are exigent circumstances
Police do not need to knock and announce if there are exigent circumstances. This is the most common justification for searches that violate the rule. It covers situations where:
- evidence may be destroyed during the knock and notice period,
- occupants may use the time to arm themselves, or
- suspects may flee.
Courts may allow searches or arrests that violate the rule in these cases. They will look to all of the facts known to the police before their forced entry.8
What happens when police violate the rule?
In California, courts can exclude evidence found in an illegal search or seizure. This includes searches or arrests where police did not comply with the knock and notice rule.9
If police execute a warrant without knocking and announcing themselves, they perform an illegal search. If an exception does not apply, the evidence they find can be thrown out. It will not be allowed into trial.
People v. Mays, Supra. (“The essential inquiry is whether under the circumstances the policies underlying the knock-notice requirements were served.”)