If the Police Show Up At Your Door Do You Know Your Legal Rights?

PUBLISHED ON February 19, 2023

Every Canadian has legal rights and protections afforded to them by law. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines rights for all citizens and other persons residing in Canada. Your rights serve to protect you in interactions with police. Understanding your rights when the police are at your doorway will assist you in evaluating the situation and responding correctly.

Sections 7 through 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms form the foundation of your legal rights regarding potential search, arrest, and self-incrimination issues. These laws protect your rights and describe the powers and responsibilities of the police as they carry out their duties.

Your Rights When Police Knock on Your Door

While no one ever wants the police to be at their door uninvited, it does happen. Police officers, like anyone else, may approach your home and knock on your door. And just like with anyone else, you do not have to answer, open the door for, speak to, or allow entry to the police. Importantly, however, this applies to interactions where the police do not present a warrant or are not acting in ‘exigent circumstances’/hot pursuit (explained below).

To summarize, assuming the police do not have a warrant and there are no hot pursuit/exigent circumstances:

  1. You do not have to answer your door;
  2. You do not have to let the police in your home. If you do answer the door, the police will often ask if they can come in. Again, unless they have a warrant or some other specific grounds for entering the home, they cannot come in unless you invite them in;
  3. You do not have to answer any questions the police ask you. You have the legal right to remain silent and not answer any questions;
  4. You do not have to accompany them to the police station for questioning. Unless they formally arrest you, you do not have to leave your home or go with them. They may tell you it is best to go with them, but you are under no legal obligation;
  5. You have the right to consult with a criminal defence lawyer. Even if you have not been formally arrested and charged with a criminal offence, if you are detained, you always have the legal right to consult with a lawyer. ;

What Rights Do Police Have If I Let The Police Into My Home?

Once you invite the police in, things are different. The police can do a visual inspection of anything that is in plain sight. However, without a warrant, they cannot start picking up items, opening drawers and closets, or searching under furniture. If they do, then they are acting in violation of your rights. You also have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions. You can also request that the police leave your home at any time.

What If The Police Have a Search Warrant?

Suppose the police attend your residence with a search warrant. In that case, it means that a justice has authorized them to enter your residence to search for specific items because there are grounds to believe those items will be inside. The warrant will contain details about the items being sought and will be valid for a specific period. If the police have a warrant, the best course of action is to not interfere with the execution of the warrant. If they are acting outside the warrant’s authority, or if the warrant should never have been issued in the first place – your lawyer can challenge this later and attempt to get any evidence seized by the police excluded from consideration at your trial.

While the search warrant means that the police will gain entry, it does not mean that your other rights are suspended. A warrant represents a legal right to enter, but it carries no obligation for you to engage with police officers, answer any questions, or help them to search.

Police can also obtain an arrest warrant. An arrest warrant allows the police to gain entry into your home for the specific purpose of arresting an individual.

Exceptions to Warrant Requirements

As mentioned above, there are certain exceptions to the rule that police require a warrant to gain entry into your home.

Exigent Circumstances

The term “exigent” means urgent and requires immediate attention. If the police have reason to suspect an emergency situation, such as cries of distress or a dropped 911 call, they may use exigent circumstances to enter without a warrant.

Hot Pursuit

Police officers pursuing a fleeing suspect may also enter your home without a warrant. This exception stems from the understanding that following a suspect as a part of a continuous pursuit represents a single unbroken action and that the interest of society during a pursuit outweighs the privacy interest.

What to Do If Police Knock or Enter Your Home

Should police enter your home, stay calm and contact a defence lawyer immediately. Your lawyer will be able to assist in determining whether the police have gained entry lawfully. Your lawyer will further be able to advise you of your other rights that are applicable in the situation.

If you have questions regarding your rights when the police are at your door, including questions about answering the door for police or what to do if police enter your home, seek legal advice from a qualified defence lawyer in Toronto.

The foregoing is not intended to, should not, and does not constitute legal advice. This is a very specific area of law, and should the police arrive at your door with or without a warrant and you have questions about your legal rights, or if you are arrested and charged with a criminal offence, please feel free to contact Toronto criminal defence lawyer, Brian Ross, immediately by calling (416) 658-5855.

CONTACT BRIAN ROSS

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(416) 658-5855

Brian Ross is a founding partner at Canada’s largest criminal Law firm, Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Ross & Angelini, LLP. Prior to founding this firm, Brian was a partner at Pinkofskys, a leading law firm famous for its vigorous defence of its clients.

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Inclusion in the Best Lawyers in Canada is based on a rigorous peer-review survey. Recognition by Best Lawyers symbolizes excellence in practice and specifically, high calibre work in criminal defence.

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Mr. Ross is a member of the Criminal Lawyer’s Association and Legal Aid Ontario’s “Extremely Serious Matters” Panel, consisting of criminal lawyers deemed to have the proven experience necessary to conduct trials in the most serious of criminal matters.

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