If Missouri police knock at your door, must you let them in?

It's Friday evening and you are glad to be relaxing at home with your family. You have plans for the weekend that include putting some burgers on the grill and inviting a few friends over for some drinks. Imagine that you and your spouse are just sitting around, talking about what side-dishes you'll serve with those burgers when there's an unexpected knock at your door.

You don't make it a habit to open your door when you weren't expecting a visitor, so you look through the peephole or a nearby window and see two Missouri police officers on your doorstep. In moments like this, it pays to have a clear understanding of your rights. There's no way to predict what type of events are about to unfold, and if you lack knowledge about what you can or should not do, you might wind up facing some serious legal problems.

The first thing you can do is step outside

Just because the people on the other side of your door appear to be uniformed Missouri police officers, you don't have to immediately invite them inside. In fact, you may step outside and close your door behind you. Then again, if you don't want to do that, you can partially open your door or a window and speak through the crack.

You may ask questions

If someone who was not in a police uniform showed up unannounced on your doorstep, you'd likely want to know who they are and what they might want. You can ask police officers the purpose for their visit. 

You don't necessarily have to answer questions

If police start asking you questions, you can explain that you are not comfortable answering any inquiries without the benefit of legal representation. If police ask you where you were a day or so ago, who is in the house with you or if you know a particular person, you may invoke your Fifth Amendment right to stay silent in order to avoid self-incrimination.

What if you don't want to answer your door at all?

There is no law stating you must respond to a knock at your door. Even if you can see who's outside, you don't necessarily have to open the door. If the police officers paying you a visit have a search warrant, it's an entirely different story. You must allow them to carry out the warrant. 

What if a search leads to an arrest?

Once you allow police inside your home, it's game on. You might wind up in handcuffs before the evening's over. That relaxing weekend with friends and family you were planning could come to a halt before it ever begins. Depending on the reason for the arrest, it might be an easy situation to resolve, or you might become entangled in months of legal appointments, hearings or a trial. Any person accused of a crime is guaranteed the opportunity to refute the charges against him or her in court.

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