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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2012 > State v. Miller — Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Mont

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State v. Miller — Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Montgomery counties), Nov. 9, 2012

Question: If peace officers attempt a “knock-and-talk” but the occupant immediately slams the door and refuses to talk, do the officers have any authority to issue commands to the occupant? 
Quick Answer: No. Without a search warrant, the officers have no authority to command the occupants to open the door or to open it themselves.
Facts: Police officers received multiple complaints of drug activity occurring at a house. The complaints alleged that numerous cars were seen stopping at the house for a short period of time and that an individual frequently left the house on a bicycle and returned a short time later. Four or five officers decided to conduct a knock-and-talk at the house. When they knocked on the door, one of the occupants opened the door. After the officers identified themselves, the occupant closed the front door and locked it. The officers continued knocking and announcing their presence for another 30 to 45 seconds when another occupant, Antonio Miller, partially opened the door. The lead officer looked inside the home and saw a digital scale and two plastic baggies containing marijuana on the coffee table. The officer entered the house and seized the marijuana and scale. Miller filed a motion to suppress based on the seizure and warrantless entry.
Why this case is important: This court found that when the first occupant decided to shut the door on police and then lock it, he unequivocally communicated to the officers that he didn’t want to speak with them or answer any of their questions. Police officers are permitted to engage in consensual encounters with suspects, such as the knock-and-talk, without violating the Fourth Amendment. Here, the occupant was under no obligation to speak with or allow the officers to enter the home, and therefore was entitled to close the door and lock it. But knock-and-talks become coercive if an officer asserts his authority, refuses to leave, or otherwise makes the people inside feel they cannot refuse to open the door. Here, when the officers continued knocking and then entered the home after Miller re-opened the door, the knock-and-talk stopped being a consensual encounter. The officers had no constitutional authority to command the occupants to speak to them or allow them inside the home without a warrant.
Keep in mind: When you knock on a door without a search warrant, you have no more rights to enter or speak to the occupants than a private citizen might have. You have essentially the same legal authority as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. And if an occupant slams the door in your face, you are pretty much out of luck. 
Of course, you might make one last attempt by saying something like, “Hey, we’d just like to talk to you.” That could be seen as still merely seeking a consensual discussion. But in this case, four or five officers in tactical police gear stood around the front door as one officer continued to knock and say “Police” for up to 45 seconds. If you have more questions about when a knock-and-talk crosses the line from consensual to coercive, consult your legal counsel.
Visit the Second District Court of Appeals website to read the entire opinion.