Police can’t knock on your door and wait at front steps forever, court holds

May 1

The police are allowed to walk up to a house and knock on the door in an attempt to speak to residents inside. But if no one answers, how long can they stay at the door? Not for as long as 45 minutes, holds the Court of Appeals of Indiana in J.K. v. State. The court bases this conclusion on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Florida v. Jardines, which held that a knock-and-talk is permitted by implied social custom but that other steps such as bringing a drug-sniffing dog to the front steps go too far. From the new decision:

The officers’ actions in this case extended well beyond the implied invitation to approach a citizen’s front door. The officers surrounded J.K.’s residence around one o’clock in the morning and repeatedly knocked on the door for over forty-five minutes. During that span of time, the officers peered through the windows and continuously yelled into the house demanding that an occupant answer the door. The Supreme Court has said officers may “approach a home and knock, precisely because that is ‘no more than any private citizen might do.’” Jardines, 133 S.Ct. at 1416 (quoting King, 131 S.Ct. at 1862). There is no doubt that the officers’ conduct in this case went far beyond anything that would ordinarily be expected to occur on one’s doorstep. If three men with guns and flashlights were to surround the a average person’s home in the wee hours of the morning, knock for over forty-five minutes, and yell inside demanding the occupants open the door, this situation would—like the Court noted in Jardines—inspire that homeowner to call the police.

Setting aside the officers’ conduct while on the curtilage, the length of time the officers remained there would alone constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The officers knocked but did not receive an answer, ostensibly because the occupants chose not to answer. At this time, the officers’ investigation reached a “conspicuously low point.” King, 131 S.Ct. at 1862. But rather than vacate J.K.’s curtilage and attempt to obtain a warrant, the officers simply remained on the curtilage for an additional forty-five minutes. This is not permitted under the Fourth Amendment. . . . When a Hoosier exercises his constitutional right to remain inside his home, law enforcement may not pitch a tent on the front porch and wait in hopes of obtaining evidence.

Thanks to FourthAmendment.com for the link.

Orin Kerr is the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, where he has taught since 2001. He teaches and writes in the area of criminal procedure and computer crime law.
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