Suppose I am a particular person who maintains a clean and orderly residence. I have a sign inside my front door asking visitors to put booties over their shoes before entry. Now some LEOs show up with a search warrant for the residence. Is there any obligation for them to respect my property and order? For example, it would not hinder their search to wear booties over their shoes while indoors. Or to wear gloves while rifling through my drawers. It might take some extra time, but if they were respectful they could carefully remove the contents and return them in substantially the same order as originally found.

What I have heard is that the reality is agents are usually careless, and often abusive in executing searches: E.g., they don't just look through drawers, but if they're in a foul mood they dump their contents on the floor and then stomp through them. They may even use this to threaten the occupants: e.g., "Tell us where X is or we'll make this messy." The only legal requirement I am aware of is that they "reasonably" secure the premises before leaving, meaning that if they broke down an exterior door or window they have to board it up.

One real-world example I recently reviewed was featured in Wired: An interagency task force with a no-knock warrant broke down an unlocked door and, before they were done, thought it amusing to leave a dildo they found propped conspicuously on a bed.

In practice are there any restraints on such misbehavior in the execution of warranted searches? Are there routine remedies for damage incurred in the course of a search? And do any remedies exist for non-material damages – e.g., insult to the dignity or property searched as suggested at the beginning of this question?

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    It actually does cause issues to remove their shoes -- shoes protect the feet from sharp things. You might want to remove that from the list of stuff that wouldn't hinder the search.
    – cpast
    May 27, 2015 at 18:19
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    @cpast Good point. Just modified it to "donning booties" instead of "removing shoes."
    – feetwet
    May 27, 2015 at 18:31
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    Since, as @chapka notes in his answer, there are two questions here I have expounded the first as a separate question here: law.stackexchange.com/q/203/10
    – feetwet
    May 28, 2015 at 17:15

2 Answers 2


There are two separate questions here, it seems to me.

First: are law enforcement officers required to respect your house rules and avoid making a mess? At least in the United States, the answer is unequivocally no. If the only "damage" suffered is that you need to sweep the floor, or put your clothes back in drawers, that's not the police's problem. You have not suffered any damages that a court is going to reimburse, and your best case scenario, even if you win a suit against the police, is an award of one dollar as nominal damages.

Second: are law enforcement officers required to reimburse you for any physical damage they caused while executing the search warrant?

The answer here is tricker, and depends on the search warrant.

If the warrant is invalid, then the answer is yes. But remember: just because, for example, the cops are looking for the guy you bought your house from, who moved out a month ago, that doesn't mean the warrant is "invalid." Just because the cops got a bad tip, or suspected you wrongly, or were in some other way wasting their time--as long as the warrant is technically proper and they were able to convince a judge it was reasonable, the warrant is valid. Even if the warrant is invalid, you may need to sue the police to get anything reimbursed.

If the warrant is valid, in practical terms, you will almost certainly need to sue the police to recover anything, and you will have to show the Court that the police's actions that damaged your property were so extreme that they were outside the reasonable scope of the warrant. For instance: the warrant is for a large item, like a stolen car: the police cannot smash holes in your walls to make sure the car isn't hidden inside. If they're looking for drugs, they may be able to.

If the officers' actions are consistent with the scope of the warrant, then you are not going to recover anything. The warrant is, basically, permission from a judge to enter your home and perform those actions, and they will not be liable for them.

A number of relevant cases are discussed in this article: http://www.aele.org/law/2010all01/2010-1MLJ101.pdf

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    Thank you. Just to confirm your answer to the second question: If the warrant was valid and executed reasonably, but was ultimately erroneous, then the victims have no redress for their damages to any government entity or agent? I.e., the state attributes the damage to an error for which no state entity or agent can be held accountable?
    – feetwet
    May 28, 2015 at 17:03
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    Does a valid search warrant for, say, 6066 South Main Street, excuse any actions or damages in searching (in good faith) 6606 South Main St.?
    – DJohnM
    Jul 5, 2015 at 0:18
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    @JustinLardinois: Because a reasonable person would have taken great care to ensure that the property listed on the warrant and the property to be searched were one and the same. Searching a property other than the one on the warrant would constitute prima facie evidence that such care was not taken. Requiring as a standard of care that all persons searching a property have joint and several liability for ensuring the correctness of the address would not materially impede any legitimate police work, but would reduce the number of mistakes.
    – supercat
    Sep 15, 2015 at 20:39
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    There has been at least one incident where an innocent homeowner's dog was shot by a police officer serving a warrant at the wrong house (statesman.com/news/news/…). I don't know that there was any case brought, but these situations are far from hypothetical. I think @supercat has a good point that double checking the address isn't something that should be a significant obstacle to the police being able to do their work effectively.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 16, 2016 at 21:04
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    @DJohnM If the police went to the wrong house by mistake, you won't get damages. If a police officer said "what a coincidence, I have a warrant for 6066 and I hate the guy at 6606, so I'll take that as an excuse to mess his home up a bit", and you can prove that, you would get damages (and the police officer would be in trouble).
    – gnasher729
    Dec 13, 2020 at 13:59

TL;DR: No. But maybe there should be.

Here is a Law Review article addressing the sub-question: Does the Fifth Amendment Mandate Compensation When Property is Damaged During the Course of Police Activities?

The author concludes that in practice the remedies offered seem to fall short of the Constitutional mandate:

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, along with similar provisions in state constitutions, forbids the taking of private property by the government for a public use without just compensation. Despite this protection, many courts have denied takings claims made by innocent third party landowners when police officers caused damage to their property during the course of executing their official duties. These courts held that the damage was not for a "public use" in the narrow sense, and have refused to analyze the claims under takings jurisprudence. This narrow view of "public use" ignores the fact that society as a whole benefits from the police activity, including any resulting damage to property, while the innocent, individual owner alone is forced to bear the burden. This Note argues that a broader interpretation of "public use" is required to redistribute justly and fairly the costs of such burdens to the society that benefits from them in order to comport with the mandate of the Fifth Amendment.

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    "But there should be" strikes me as speculative and/or opinion-based. The fact that one article says the Fifth Amendment requires something is less relevant than the rulings of actual courts on the matter; you can find law review articles supporting all sorts of positions that are not US law (and other articles opposing said positions).
    – cpast
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:07
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    @cpast - Good point. I just modified the "answer" to hedge a little more. I posted this answer primarily because the referenced article provides extensive case law references that directly answer the sub-question.
    – feetwet
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:19

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