Imagine that you are in your backyard with your family when, all of a sudden and without prior notice, police officers storm in and start searching and seizing evidence from your home. This may sound like a scene from a movie. However, in reality, this type of situation is more common than most people realize. The Atlantic City illegal search and seizure attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych invite you to keep reading as we discuss whether police officers can walk into your backyard or property in New Jersey.

Are the Police Allowed to Enter My Backyard?

Every citizen has an expectancy of privacy inside their property. This means that your person and property are protected by law. More specifically, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects all individuals and their property against unreasonable and illegal searches and seizures. Generally, this legal precept not only protects your home, but it also extends itself to the immediate surroundings of your property. This is commonly referred to as the “curtilage.” Curtilage is a piece of land that forms part of a property, such as a house, which cannot be separated from it and creates an enclosure along with the property that is used by the homeowner. A typical example of curtilage is a fenced backyard.

Even though the expectation of privacy is lower than it would be inside your home, your backyard is still protected, meaning the police cannot enter your backyard unless they are given permission to do so. If a police officer wishes to enter your property to look for evidence, they will need a judge-issued warrant. This warrant will be granted based on specific information; for instance, they can’t request a warrant to look for guns if in reality, they are looking for illegal substances.

There are, however, certain precautions you need to take to make sure your backyard remains protected by law. If your backyard has no control over public access, meaning anyone can enter, then police officers can have access to your backyard. The situation would be very different in circumstances where your backyard is fenced and access to it is gated. In such cases, police officers will need to show you a warrant, or they can be denied access.

Can the Police Enter Your Backyard Without a Warrant?

While your property is protected by law against unreasonable searches and seizures, there are specific circumstances where police officers can have access to your home or backyard without a warrant. Law enforcement officials can gain access to your property in the following situations:

Exigent circumstances

Police officers can enter a property if exigent circumstances are present. For instance, if an officer has reason to believe that there is criminal activity happening inside your property — the use of controlled substances, the presence of illegal weapons, etc. — and that rushing to get a warrant carries the risk of losing evidence, then they can move in and perform an immediate search and seizure.

Emergency situations

If there is an emergency requiring the assistance of police officers, they will not need to ask for a warrant to get inside your home or backyard. For instance, if a person is in imminent danger and screaming for help, police officers can intervene on the spot. Furthermore, if there is a violent act happening in your backyard, such as an aggravated assault or sexual assault, police officers can enter your property and perform an arrest.

Occupant permission

One of the classic exceptions to the general warrant rule is consent. Police officers can knock at your door or go near your backyard and call out your name and ask for permission to come in. However, you have the power to refuse to allow their entry unless they show you a valid warrant first. Many people may feel apprehensive and let police officers get into their home or other property out of fear that refusal might be against the law. However, you ultimately have control over your own property, meaning that you are not obligated to open your door to the police.

Keep in mind that police officers will often simply knock at your door to ask you a few questions related to an ongoing investigation. In these situations, it is generally a good idea to comply and assist the police. However, if you don’t want the police to go through your entire property, you can refuse. Always ask for a warrant before thinking granting access to the police.

New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers Handling Unlawful Search and Seizure Cases

Dealing with the police can be overwhelming and stressful, especially if it is your first time. However, rather than fearing law enforcement officers, you should be aware of the laws that protect you and your property. The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can help you defend your constitutional rights against those who may seek to violate them. To speak with a professional about your case in a free, confidential consultation, call our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.