Everyone knows what a police raid is, but up until recently, most of us probably assumed raids were something the rich and powerful didn’t have to worry about. But, as we’ve learned, even former presidents can see their private homes raided by law enforcement.
Most of us have thought about what to do when a police officer asks to search your car, because we’ve all been pulled over before and know how fraught the situation can be. You may have also thought about what to do if the police show up with a warrant and demand to search your home, because we’ve seen it on TV.
But a raid is slightly different, specifically because it’s all about surprise. The police show up without warning and use that surprise to ensure that you don’t have time to discard evidence, flee out the back door, or make other arrangements. By their very nature a police raid is a hectic, chaotic experience—especially if it’s a “no-knock” raid like the one that resulted in the killing of Breonna Taylor. So, the best time to think about how you’d handle a police raid in your home is now, before you have to react to an incredibly stressful situation.
Ask to see the warrant
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If the cops are in your home, they’re in your home—there’s no changing that. But you can ask to see the warrant they have authorizing them to be there. This can give you a clue as to why the police are in your home, but keep two things in mind:
- The police don’t necessarily need a warrant—there are specific circumstances that allow them to raid your home without one. If they don’t have a warrant, just note the fact.
- Never consent to a search. In fact, it’s best not to consent to anything and to deny consent if asked. Again, the police are already there and assume the raid is justified, but they try to get consent on the record to shore up a weaker case.
Don’t say anything
While you’re not consenting to anything, you should also get busy not saying anything, either. You don’t have to answer questions or be helpful in any way. You should contact your lawyer, if you have one (and get one if you don’t), but otherwise, say absolutely nothing. Anything you say while police are in your home could later be used against you in some way.
The police are also good at crafting questions that are impossible to answer correctly. When an officer pulls you over while driving and asks if you know how fast you were going, saying “no” removes a defense you might have to fight a speeding ticket, while saying “yes” perhaps confesses to the crime, for example. Similarly phrased questions can be used to gain consent or confession from you, so it’s best to not answer any questions at all until an attorney is there to protect you.
You’re allowed to observe and record the search of your property. Some police officers may not like that, and they might threaten to take your camera or phone, but you are absolutely within your rights to film them. And doing so makes it easier to capture as much information as possible, including the names and badge numbers of officers involved, their behavior while inside your property, and the things they take away.
Whether there’s a warrant or not, the best thing to do when your home is being raided is to let it happen. Don’t obstruct, interfere, or follow officers around calling them names. Again—and I can’t stress this enough—once the armed, angry people in uniform are in your house, they’re in your house, and they’re in charge for the moment. Don’t try to stop them from removing anything from the premises, no matter how important it is to you—all that will do is get you arrested.
If your property suffers any damage as a result of the raid, document it thoroughly. Make a list of anything removed by police, as well as any names and badge numbers you were able to record. Do it right while everything is fresh in your mind, then contact a lawyer if you haven’t yet.
Police raids are a tactic designed to catch you by surprise, and there’s not much to do in the moment. Once they’re completed, however, the work begins of defending yourself from any charges and getting any seized property back. After the raid is also when you can address any rights violations or inappropriate behavior on the part of the police. In short, if the raid wasn’t legal or conducted properly, the time to throw around those accusations is after the police have exited your property. Whether you then release a rambling statement about the raid to social media is entirely up to you.