If you are suspect in an alleged drug crime your defense begins before you even get arrested. As a citizen you are expected to follow certain rules, but law enforcement agents also have rules to follow, rules that are often bent in pursuit of alleged criminals.
Before an arrest law enforcement agents will normally engage in a search of your person, your vehicle, or your living space. If they have a search warrant it will be presented to you and they can legally search any space specifically listed in the warrant. However, many times these agents do not have a warrant because they have not collected enough evidence to show probable cause that a drug crime is being committed.
In situations where agents are without warrant, they often turn to a technique they call a ‘knock and talk.’ Just as it sounds, an agent will literally knock on your door in an attempt to engage you in conversation. You are under no obligation to open the door, or even speak to the agent. If you do open the door the agent will be very polite and persuasive and may say something like, “Hi I’m Officer Smith. We were told there is marijuana inside this home, do you mind if we come in and look around?”
This sounds innocent enough, and you may feel the urge to comply. You have been taught to cooperate with the police your whole life after all. If you say yes, and they find something—anything illegal—they will certainly use it against you.
If you say no but you already have the door open and have engaged them in conversation they will try to find another reason to enter your home, albeit without your consent. One simple reason is the ‘smell of marijuana.’ This is a nebulous idea of course, difficult to prove or disprove, but it gives the agent an excuse to enter.
Another reason for entering without consent is exigent circumstances. This means that something is happening that requires immediate attention from law enforcement. If someone were screaming, or a gunshot was heard, that would create an exigent circumstance and the agent could enter legally.
Another exigent circumstance can be as mild as the sound of a toilet flushing. In this case the agent can claim that he believes evidence of a crime is being destroyed, therefore his immediate action is required, again entering your home without consent.
If you choose to open your door, and either consent to a search, or fall victim to the many techniques an agent will use to gain entry—stay calm. Once this process begins you may find the agent, usually more than one at this point, very aggressive or even violent. Everything about their behavior will be an effort to intimidate you. In spite of their actions you must remain calm, be polite, but understand that anything you say will be used to help prosecute you. If you wish to remain silent—and silence is almost always the right choice—make sure you say so out loud. The agents will be bombarding you with questions, just repeat your choice to remain silent.
If you have not been arrested, ask if you are under arrest, if you are not under arrest ask to leave. If you are under arrest ask for an attorney. Your attorney understands exactly how law enforcement works and will protect you. The importance of an attorney is these situations cannot be overstated.
If they agents entered your home without your consent, and you did not say anything to incriminate yourself, your attorney is in a much better position to defend you.