In addition to representing our clients in their individual cases, one of the most gratifying experiences to the members of this firm is to prevail on a constitutional issue which benefits thousands of criminally accused defendants. Over twenty -one years ago, we were honored to have successfully argued Doggett vs. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992) before the United States Supreme Court. Doggetthas become the bedrock case when courts are determining whether a person's Sixth Amendment right to speedy arrest has been violated, and has been cited in thousands of decisions on this issue.
We are often asked whether police officers have the right to approach a person's home without a warrant and then use what they observe to search the home. Generally, in the absence of "no trespassing" signs or fences, officers have the right to engage in what is referred to a "knock and talk" of a home, that is they have the right to walk on the sidewalk of your home, knock on your front door and engage you in a "consensual encounter." They do not have the right to conduct warrantless searches of your property. Nor do they have the right to enter into your backyard. In fact, the right to engage you is extremely limited. Law enforcement personnel often exceed the authority given to them under the walk and talk doctrine. This article discusses two cases which have limited the ability of police officers to conduct warrantless searches in the curtilage of your home and what you should do to protect yourself from unlawful searches and seizures on your property.