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  • Search Warrant - Resident Not Home

    Question: If the police have a legal, signed search warrant to search a house and surrounding property for specific evidence of a crime, can they go inside if the resident isn't home?

    If so, how do they generally gain entry? I'm assuming they'll check all the doors to see if any are unlocked...? Would the police have to then pay for damage if they broke the door/window to get in?

    (*In my story, the police believe that one neighbor poisoned another (rat poison) and they want to search for the poison used). Thank you for your time!


  • #2
    Halligan tool...

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      So the answer is yes, they can enter if no one is home? I'll check out the Halligan tool as well. Thank you!

    • Aidokea
      Aidokea commented
      Editing a comment
      An 8-pound sledgehammer works pretty well too- if we find the lockset embedded in the drywall opposite the door, it was a good hit...

  • #3
    force entry, usually by least intrusive way. I cannot speak for all jurisdictions, but we would be responsible for any damage and for securing the premises if no one ever showed up when we left, or responded to calls...etc.

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      Okay, good to know! Thank you!

  • #4
    Yes we can search when nobody is home. We will force entry if necessary but if it's obvious nobody is around and we have planned the warrant (rather than a rollover) we usually have a locksmith ready to go to get us in. They will hold off site and we will call them if we need them. It's quick and easy. That way once inside they can get us into other locked areas. That's my federal experience. Never saw that as a local. But I've never been on a local warrant that had anywhere near the level of planning as a federal warrant.

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      Interesting to know! Thanks for the info.

  • #5
    We usually use EOD and just blow doors. Much more fun.

    The above replies were spot on
    Now go home and get your shine box!

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      I had to look that one up. Explosive Ordinance Department? James Bond style... (Are you kidding, btw?) I have no idea.

  • #6
    Would the police have to then pay for damage if they broke the door/window to get in?
    Lol.

    The home owner could file a tort claim for damages. Good luck with that.

    True story- for situations not involving drugs, weapons, officer safety, etc, I would aim for a low key approach on gaining entry. You know, knock on the door and politely explain the situation. Or if the resident was not home, call their phone and recommend they get home to unlock the door before it gets kicked in (again, this was for SWs not involving violent people or exigent circumstances).

    But my co-workers didn't always share my approach. I remember one warrant service a few years ago- resident knew he was under investigation and had been cooperating. Crime was not a crime of violence. SW obtained for evidence at residence. Team arrives to serve warrant and the owner isn't home. I phone him but call goes to voicemail. Team is standing around, with newer guys holding the tools. As I'm waiting for owner to call back, some of the older guys start mumbling why ain't we in the house and this is a bunch of bullschitt. One of the younger guys cues off their comments and grabs sledgehammer and knocks the hell out the french doors in front of house. Not just the doors come down but the entire frame pops, leaving a gaping hole big enough for a car to park in. The owner then calls and I explain a warrant is being served and he should come home. Owner shows up, looks at the damage and says, "You know, if you went through the side door to the garage, it would've cost me $150. Those french doors will cost $2,500."

    So sometimes it all depends on who is holding the sledge hammer....

    What does not kill you will likely try again.

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      Wow - guess in every industry you have different POVs on how to handle things. Thanks for weighing in.

  • #7
    A search warrant is a court order compelling a search of a particular place for specified items that are either evidence of a crime or contraband. The issuing judge may place restrictions such as service only during certain days or hours, or a requirement to announce the presence of officers and the warrant to be served before attempting to gain entry. Barring any such restrictions every search warrant is a "no knock" warrant, may be served at any time of day or night, and such force as is reasonably necessary may be used to gain entry and conclude the search.

    If no one is present at the property entry may be done by forcing a door or other means of ingress, in which case the agency assumes responsibility for securing the premises during and after the search. There are various tools that may be used, such as the Halligan tool (a firefighter's multi-tool for forcing entry), a battering ram, or (my favorite) a hydraulic jack used to spread the door frame opening until the locks clear. Following service, reasonable means must be used to secure the property from trespassers, looters, or inclement weather. I've used sheets of plywood nailed over door or window openings, and I have also seen officers detailed to remain at the property until owners or residents return.

    A true copy of the warrant and a list of all items seized must be prominently posted on the premises.

    There may be agencies having other policies regarding damages, but I am not familiar with any legal requirement for police to repair or replace anything broken during the course of warrant service.

    One final note for the OP: Issuance of a search warrant requires a sworn affidavit spelling out the probable cause justifying the search; i.e.: knowledge of facts and circumstances that causes a reasonable person to believe that the search will result in recovery of evidence or contraband. Warrants are not issued on suspicion, rumor, or to facilitate a fishing expedition. There must be some pretty strong proof in hand to obtain a search warrant, and judges generally take that point very seriously.

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for your VERY thorough explanation. I did take a couple of police procedural classes for suspense writers and they cover some of these things in general, but being able to ask a question specifically about my own novel here is quite a gift. I can't tell you (and all the responders) how much I appreciate this opportunity! Being able to be reasonably authentic in my story is something I strive for. Thanks again for your detailed response!

  • #8
    So what if the person has rat poison in their home? It doesn't prove -- or disprove -- anything.

    Comment


    • Suspense Writer
      Suspense Writer commented
      Editing a comment
      True. But I'm assuming in all criminal cases you have multiple pieces of evidence that help prove guilt. Off the top of my head, perhaps it was a type of rat poison that only a contractor could get, and if they had a spoon and funnel under the sink with pieces of the granola bar still clinging to it, and video surveillance showing the neighbor walking toward the other person's house, for example, might all help to be pieces of the circumstantial evidence puzzle.

  • #9
    Originally posted by retired1995 View Post
    The issuing judge may place restrictions such as service only during certain days or hours, or a requirement to announce the presence of officers and the warrant to be served before attempting to gain entry. Barring any such restrictions every search warrant is a "no knock" warrant, may be served at any time of day or night, and such force as is reasonably necessary may be used to gain entry and conclude the search.

    ...entry may be done by forcing a door or other means of ingress, in which case the agency assumes responsibility for securing the premises during and after the search. There are various tools that may be used, such as the Halligan tool (a firefighter's multi-tool for forcing entry), a battering ram, or (my favorite) a hydraulic jack used to spread the door frame opening until the locks clear. Following service, reasonable means must be used to secure the property from trespassers, looters, or inclement weather. I've used sheets of plywood nailed over door or window openings, and I have also seen officers detailed to remain at the property until owners or residents return.

    There may be agencies having other policies regarding damages, but I am not familiar with any legal requirement for police to repair or replace anything broken during the course of warrant service.
    This...

    Comment


    • #10
      Originally posted by just joe View Post
      So what if the person has rat poison in their home? It doesn't prove -- or disprove -- anything.
      Spoken like a true defense attorney.
      Last edited by L-1; 08-04-2020, 02:49 PM.
      Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

      Comment


      • #11
        Originally posted by Suspense Writer View Post
        Question: Would the police have to then pay for damage if they broke the door/window to get in?
        In my agency, the property owners would file a claim with the Board of Control. If approved for payment, their claim would be lumped together with all other approved claims for the year and sent to the State Legislature. The State Legislature would then pass a bill authorizing payment payment of all approved claims in the next budget to be funded. By the time the claim is processed, legislation is passed and the next budget is funded, they might see money for damage done today by sometime around August of 2023.
        Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

        Comment


        • Suspense Writer
          Suspense Writer commented
          Editing a comment
          Interesting!

        • L-1
          L-1 commented
          Editing a comment
          Just to clarify - Here in state government, different departments do not have money in their budgets to pay claims or awards for damages. If it is determined they are liable for something, the Legislature must pass a special bill authorizing funding in an upcoming budget in order for the money to become available for payment. Right now, we are in the 2020/2021 fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) so all that money is locked up. Because the state budget is complex and huge, work is just about complete on the 2021/2022 budget, so that money is locked up as well. If a claim were to be submitted today, with all the hoops it has to go through (approval process, claim accumulation, time it tales the legislature to act and pass a payment bill) it would probably fall into the 2023/2024 budget and get paid in August of 2023.

      • #12
        Here is a video demonstrating several forms of breaching:

        https://youtu.be/pXkRrcJencA

        Comment


      • #13
        Originally posted by Suspense Writer View Post
        Question: If the police have a legal, signed search warrant to search a house and surrounding property for specific evidence of a crime, can they go inside if the resident isn't home?
        Yes

        If so, how do they generally gain entry? I'm assuming they'll check all the doors to see if any are unlocked...? Would the police have to then pay for damage if they broke the door/window to get in?
        See if door is unlocked, check entire house... check under mats for key, you'd be amazed... if no unlocked doors and no key use sledgehammer.
        "I am a Soldier. I fight where I'm told and I win where I fight." -- GEN George S. Patton, Jr.

        "With a brother on my left and a sister on my right, we face…. We face what no one should face. We face, so no one else would face. We are in the face of Death." -- Holli Peet

        Comment


        • #14
          Or a Satchel Charge...
          Now go home and get your shine box!

          Comment


          • Suspense Writer
            Suspense Writer commented
            Editing a comment
            I had to look that one up. Thanks for chiming in.

        • #15
          We will have Emergency Service gain entry. They generally start by checking for unlocked doors to minimize damage. The county will gladly pay for the door frame if entry is forced.

          Comment


          • Suspense Writer
            Suspense Writer commented
            Editing a comment
            It's good to know they at least try to find a key or unlocked door - thanks for the info!

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