When police want to search a person’s house for illegal drugs or other evidence of criminal activity, the general rule is that they need to have probable cause and a search warrant signed by a judge to do so. However, there are circumstances where a police officer may be able to search a person’s home with little more than a hunch. Police officers often conduct what are called “knock and talks”. For instance, if a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police officer thinks there may be illegal drugs or other evidence in a person’s home, he/she may “knock” on the door and “talk”, or ask the owner or occupant if he/she can search the house. If the owner or occupant says yes and consents to the search, the JSO officer may be able to search the house without probable cause or a search warrant.
Under Florida search and seizure laws, a police officer does not need to have probable cause and a search warrant or even reasonable suspicion to conduct a knock and talk. There are cases which allow a police officer to approach a house, knock on the door and ask for consent to search for drugs based on only a hunch or educated guess. The theory is that if a sales person or stranger is allowed to knock on a person’s door and ask a question, a police officer can too.
When a police officer conducts a knock and talk to look for illegal drugs or other evidence, the issue is whether the owner or occupant gives consent to search freely and voluntarily. Even where the owner or occupant agrees to a search, that consent may not be considered free and voluntary under the law if certain factors are present such as a prolonged detention by the police officer(s), repeated requests to search, a threat that the police officer(s) will get a search warrant if consent is refused or any sort of show of force or intimidation by the police officer(s) to obtain consent. If police do anything more than simply ask for consent to search the house, the consent may not be valid under the law.
It is important to understand what your rights are in a situation like this. The main thing you need to understand is that if a police officer is asking for consent to search your house, car, clothing or anything else, you have a Constitutional right to say no. Understand that the request to search is usually not a simple, clear question such as, “Do you mind if I search your house/car/person?” The question is often more of a leading question or not a question at all, such as “I’m going to search your house, ok?” or “Since you have nothing to hide, then I guess you don’t mind if we search your house.” Failure to clearly assert your rights and refuse may be interpreted by the police officer (and written in his/her report) and the judge as consent. It can be a scary thing to say no to a police officer in such an encounter, but understand that the U.S. Constitution affords you the right to refuse consent to search your property and only you can assert that right.