The knock and announce rule requires police to announce their presence and purpose before executing a search warrant. And then they must wait a reasonable amount of time before forcing their way in. The rule is meant to keep police from barging into homes unannounced.
This is also referred to as the knock and notice rule. It acknowledges the right of the people to know when police are entering their homes. And this right does not interfere with the police’s ability to conduct an effective investigation.
There are some exceptions to the rule under California search and seizure laws. The most important include:
- the consent of a resident,
- the execution of the warrant is in a public place, or
- there are exigent circumstances.
Breaking the knock and announce rule can make a search or seizure illegal. Some state courts, including those in 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 (“rule of announcement”), and
- give the occupants reasonable time to open the door.
In California, courts have only required “substantial compliance” with these rules.2 A minor violation of the knock-and-announce rule 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 (“forcible entry) 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 on the front door and comply with the announce requirement. 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. And they may break any outer or inner door.6
Are there exceptions to the knock and announce rule?
There are several blanket 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; in short, an unannounced entry may be legal.
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 with a no-knock entry.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 (“destruction of evidence”) 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, where there was no valid warrant, or where there was no probable cause, among other reasons.9
If police execute a warrant without knocking and announcing themselves, they perform an illegal search. If an exception does not apply, the court can throw out evidence they find from the illegal search. It will not be allowed into trial in the lower courts.
- California Penal Code 1531 (search warrants) and California Penal Code 844 (arrest warrants). See also People v. Ramsey, 203 Cal.App.3d 671 (1988) and People v. Mays, 67 Cal.App.4th 969 (1998). See also the Fourth Amendment, 18 U.S.C. § 3109, Semayne’s Case, 77 Eng. Rep. 194, 198 (K.B. 1603), the genesis of the common law knock and announce rule, Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623 (1963), Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301 (1958), Hudson v. Michigan, 547 US 586 (2006), Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 117 S.Ct. 1416 (1995), and Wilson v. Arkansas, 115 S.Ct. 1914 (1995). See also these federal court cases: United States v. Morris, 915 F.3d 552 (8th Cir. 2019), United States v. Jenkins, 175 F.3d 1208 (10th Cir. 1999), and United States v. Gatewood, 60 F.3d 248 (6th Cir. 1995). In some cases, judges issue no-knock warrants; but there is a movement to ban them in the wake of the Breonna Taylor killing in Kentucky.
- People v. Mays, Supra. (The majority opinion of the court’s decision: “The essential inquiry is whether under the circumstances the policies underlying the knock-notice requirements were served.”)
- See People v. Macioce, 197 Cal.App.3d 262 (1987).
- U.S. v. Chavez-Miranda, 306 F.3d 973 (9th Cir. 2002).
- McClure v. U.S., 332 F.2d 19 (9th Cir. 1964).
- Hart v. Superior Court, 21 Cal.App.3d 496 (1971).
- People v. Byrd, 38 Cal.App.3d 941 (1974). Turner v. Smith (California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division, 2023) No. A164194 (parole officers do not need to knock and announce themselves when making compliance checks).
- People v. Murphy, 37 Cal.4th 490 (2005).
- People v. Gastelo, 432 P.2d 706 (California Supreme Court, 1967)(exclusionary rule); see also Christopher Totten, and Sutham Cobkit, The Knock-and-Announce Rule and Police Arrests: Evaluating Alternative Deterrents to Exclusion for Rule Violation, University of San Francisco Law Review: Vol. 48 : Iss. 1 (2013).