A video of the incident. Timestamped to when they begin surrounding the apartment for brevity.

Jan 4th 2022 The Miami Police department was searching for 2 suspects involved with grand theft auto and credit card theft. They find one and believed they chased the other into a small apartment complex. Police surround the complex and proceed to knock on doors, ordering the residents out of their apartments to search for the suspect. They later find the suspect walking around outside.

Can Police lawfully order all the residents out of their apartments in search of the remaining suspect or would anyone resistant to these orders be in their legal right to deny the order?

  • 3
    If it were a specific unit in the complex, they would clearly be justified under the grounds of "hot pursuit". I'm not so sure about an entire complex.
    – Mark
    Mar 7 at 4:40
  • @Mark They did not have a specific unit and systematically cleared all units. All residents "voluntarily" allowed the police to search. Mar 7 at 4:49
  • @Mark they had this particular building and were in pursuit as far as I understand it.
    – Trish
    Mar 7 at 7:43
  • 1
    @Digitalfire if the residents voluntarily allowed the police to search then the premise of the question does not match the facts in the video: the question says "without consent" but the police in the video obtained consent. Perhaps that is the reason for the close vote.
    – phoog
    Mar 7 at 22:53
  • 1
    @phoog The premise of the question is theoretical nature based on a real event to understand the possible repercussions of a resident(s) who refused the order. Mar 7 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


So in effect, the suspect has "lost" or "eluded" the police, and disappeared into an apartment complex.

From a 4th Amendment perspective, that's no different than disappearing into a neighborhood or whole city. Each of the dwelling units is independent as far as the 4th Amendment is concerned; the landlord can't give permission to search the whole facility anymore than the mayor can give permission to search the whole town. They would have to get permission to search per dwelling unit. That's very clearly established in case law.

If the tenants are doing things "by the book", they will not get into even one single unit. See "the book" here in part 3.

So to answer your questions, they can't order tenants out of the unit to search. You don't have to open the door. You can tell them to go away (unless they have a warrant). None of that constitutes "obstructing a search" so you can't be arrested for that merely by denying the search.

You use your words to prevent a police search. If you try to use your body to physically block their movement, then that is obstructing and is a crime.

If a search is illegal, you settle that at the courthouse by getting all evidence drawn from that thrown out. Of course if you have any stuff you're not allowed to have, like Kinder Surprise eggs or an alive person in a cage, you won't be getting that back.

Lastly, there are extreme edge conditions where police might search anyway. If Osama bin Laden was cornered in your apartment complex, or the president's teenage daughter was abducted there, yeah, commanders will decide the damage to their career is worth it, and will search anyway and simply recognize that NOTHING they find will be usable as evidence in court. The FBI has a 10 most wanted list, and they don't do these types of dragnets for any of them. It would be a very, very extreme case.

The other extreme I should cover is, they CAN order you out of a building for a variety of reasons, such as eviction or the building no longer being habitable. That's not a legal reason to search the property OR your bag as you leave. However repairmen, landlord or looters will be tromping through there shortly, and whatever they happen to see incidentally is not protected by the 4th Amendment, and they can report it and you can be busted for it. So appeal to them for 2 minutes to gather some clothing, gather up anything incriminating, throw it in a bag and walk right past them with it.

  • Of course the police officer can order you to let them in, they just have no right to. If they order me to let them in, without having the right to, and I do so to avoid trouble, have I given consent?
    – gnasher729
    Mar 8 at 10:49
  • @gnasher729 Yes. When I say "do it by the book", I linked work by the ACLU which is informed by the best legal research in the field. Your best bet is to do it by their book. If you deviate from that, you will be in a worse legal position. Navy SEALs (and cops) know: "Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion. You sink to the level Of Your Training. Train hard!" Unfortunately the police's lawyers do the same legal research, and train cops to create pressure in lawful ways and exploit the panic of an untrained citizen. Such an "order" is no accident; it's them being better trained. Mar 8 at 21:16
  • 2
    So how do you get that search excluded? You say "the cop ordered me to"? The court says "the cop can't order you to." You say "well I feared trouble if I didn't?" That's a bad place to be in the courtroom because you must show threats were made such that it was constructively non-consensual by the judgment of a reasonable person. That's extremely difficult to succeed. Mar 8 at 21:40

The Supreme Court has ruled that warrentless searches may be made under certain defined exigent circumstances which include imminent danger to the public, imminent destruction of evidence, immense escape of a suspect, or in the case of rendering emergency aid. These do not violate the 4th amendment protections under the Constitution, because the probable cause for a warrant clearly exists, however the warrant process will significantly delay the appropriate response. In such circumstances, any evidence in plain view can be seized and they would not be permitted to search areas where no reasonable person would think to look for them (so if they came in looking for a fleeing suspect, they could not search your closed sock drawer).

While OP did say the complex was small, they didn't specify how many units were accessed in this way, but I would gather that they visually checked only the ones they beleived that the suspect could have entered. This would qualify as exigent circumstances at the time, as the suspect could potentially be armed, forcing residents to let him in under threats of violence, or lawfully reside in the complex, which presents an imminent threat to public safety AND is a suspect who police are actively pursuing.

The fact that the police were wrong does not change the math because this is based on facts available at the time. On could even argue that the suspect became aware of the door to door search, at which point, he fled his hiding spot in the complex, which lead to his arrest.

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