In Florida, the police generally need a search warrant to enter your home and search for illegal drugs or other evidence of criminal activity. When they do not have a search warrant, they can still try and gain legal access to your home by walking up to your door, knocking, asking some questions and requesting consent to enter and search your home. For the most part, police officers have the same right to approach your front door, knock and ask questions as anyone else does. If you decide to open your door, answer questions from the police, let them come in and then they find guns or drugs or other evidence, that was your choice.
However, there are limitations to this. If there is free access between your street and your front door, the police can typically just walk right up and knock. On the other hand, if you have a closed gate or barbed wire or some other obstruction preventing someone from walking up to your door, the police usually cannot cross that obstruction to get to your front door to knock. The police cannot likely open a closed gate or climb a fence to get to your door. They certainly cannot break or unlock anything to get to your door without a search warrant.
In a recent trafficking in marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant lived on a large piece of property that was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and also had a chain linked fence blocking the long driveway. He had “No Trespassing” signs on the fence. After receiving an anonymous tip of drug activity, the police went to the house to do what they call a “knock and talk” (go to the door, knock and hope the suspect starts talking). The police officers opened the gate and drove down the driveway and ultimately approached the front door. The defendant answered, spoke to the police and they ultimately discovered a large amount of marijuana on the property.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana. The criminal defendant attorney argued the police did not have a right to basically trespass onto the property to do a “knock and talk”. Since the defendant’s property was gated and indicated he did not want trespassers/strangers, the police did not have a right to come onto the property without a search warrant or consent.
The court agreed, and the marijuana evidence was thrown out. People have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and on their properties. When a property owner puts up a fence and makes it clear that he/she does not want unknown visitors, the law protects that privacy interest. If the police want to go onto that property, they need a search warrant or consent.