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Secrets of Police "Knock and Talk" Searches: A Search Without a Warrant

Tampa criminal lawyer clarifies the search process

What is a knock and talk police search? Many times you will read in the newspaper, or see on TV, law enforcement made their way to accused houses, without search warrants, based on an anonymous tip and did what is called a “knock and talk.” This is how it works: 

Law enforcement agencies across the country get information every day—on the 1-800 tip lines, calls to the police station, or people walking into the station telling law enforcement that they believe someone in their neighborhood is selling drugs. Without probable cause or search warrants, law enforcement cannot go into that home and conduct a police search for cocaine, marijuana, or any other kind of illegal substance. One of the methods law enforcement officers use is what is called a knock and talk method. 

With knowledge that a subject or home may possess illegal narcotics, and knowing they cannot conduct a police search without a warrant or consent, law enforcement will walk to the front door—literally knocking on the front door—and try to engage the occupant in a conversation. And this is how it goes: 

Officer: Hi. I’m Officer Smith this is Officer Jones. We received knowledge that you are growing marijuana inside your home or that you possess cocaine inside your home. Will you allow us to come in and search?

We have the knock part. We have the talk part. The third part of the knock and talk is when the law enforcement officer tries to gain entry into the residence by getting the occupant to consent to the police search. Law enforcement does not have the basis to go into homes unless they have search warrants for the occupants; probable cause through exigent circumstances—if there is a fire or an officer runs into the home because of some other emergency. But in this case, they don’t have the ability to conduct a police search in the home, so they are trying to get the consent of the citizen and that is the third prong of the knock and talk. 

If the citizen consents and allows the search without warrant, then anything the law enforcement officers see or find in the search, if it’s illegal, may be confiscated and used to prosecute the citizen in criminal court. If the occupant says “no, I don’t give consent for the police search” and there is no probable cause; there is no plain view seizure, meaning they cannot see a kilo of cocaine in plain view—then law enforcement cannot come in without search warrants. 

That explains the knock and talk—knocking, trying to get the citizen to engage in a conversation to get consent to enter the home and conduct a police search for the drugs that they received the anonymous tip about.

Learn more about exceptions to a warrantless search and about plain view search and seizure.

If you have any other questions about a searches without a warrant, contact our team at Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A. today at 877-728-9653.

J. Kevin Hayslett

Kevin Hayslett, Esq. Criminal Lawyer

J. Kevin Hayslett is an attorney practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and DUI Defense from the Clearwater and Hillsborough office. Kevin is an avid tennis player and is currently nationally-rated in singles and doubles. You can follow Kevin on Google+, or on Radio IO on his show, "Kevin's Law".