The right to privacy in one’s home and on one’s property is one of the strongest rights in the Constitution. The police are not allowed to come into one’s home and search or ask questions without consent from the resident or a valid search warrant. The fact that the police in Florida have an anonymous tip that a resident is growing marijuana plants or engaged in any other illegal activity does not change that.
However, if the police do get an anonymous tip of illegal activity and it is not sufficient for a search warrant, the police can normally walk up to the suspect’s front door, knock and see if the occupant(s) will answer questions or let the police in to investigate. In this way, the police are entitled to the same access as any of member of the public who can walk up to a person’s door and knock.
One exception is if the front door is not easily accessible. For instance, if there is a fence surrounding the property or the home is otherwise enclosed or secluded in such a way that it is apparent that the occupant(s) does not want people to be able to freely walk up to the door, the police cannot go through a fence or intrude onto the property without consent or a search warrant.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police received an anonymous tip that the homeowner was growing marijuana plants inside his house. The house was surrounded by a chain link fence and a locked gate. The property owner also had a “no trespass” sign on the gate. This was clearly a homeowner who did not want people coming onto his property without permission. However, the police went through the gate, knocked on the front door and ultimately found marijuana plants on the property. The defendant was charged with manufacturing marijuana.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress arguing that the search was illegal as the police had no legal right to walk upon the property. The court agreed. The police can walk up to someone’s door to knock and ask questions if there is free and easy access to the door. Of course, the occupant is entitled to not answer the door, refuse to answer questions or refuse to let the police come inside. However, if it is apparent that the homeowner has blocked access to the property and reasonably expects that the property be kept private from visitors, the police would not be permitted to enter the property to search, investigate or even knock on the door to ask questions. If they do and find drugs or other evidence of criminal activity, that evidence is likely to be thrown out of court.