I'm a layperson. I have seen judges tell police officers to take an action (ex.evict someone or handcuff a defendant). Are police officers required to follow instructions from judges?

I've always thought so, but then I read Law 101 By Jay M. Feinman, page 20. Please help me understand what this means:

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  • 3
    Images of text are not accessible. There is formatting available in the editor that will let you present text as a quote, and even the ability to bold sections of that quote that you want to draw attention to. Part of the confusion in your question may be in the language used. It appears that here "The Court" is referring to just the Supreme Court of the United States, not to local jurisdictional courts. Jul 5, 2018 at 23:51

3 Answers 3


There is a special type of law enforcement officer, called a "bailiff" who is charged with maintaining order in a courtroom, and often, a bailiff is a direct subordinate of a judge who must follow the judge's orders.

Judges can also issue special kinds of court orders, called "writs" which are a direction to a law enforcement agency generally to take certain action. But, in these cases, the law enforcement agency is effectively an "independent contractor" in relationship to the judge with considerable discretion regarding precisely how and when a writ is carried out. Somebody in the law enforcement agency to which a writ is directed is required to take action, but no individual law enforcement officer is personally compelled to comply with this order.

The quote in question is not a statement about the legal authority of a judge, however. It is a statement of "realpolitik". The judge can't physically force or threaten law enforcement to do what they are told to do by a judge. The cops have the guns, not the judges.

Instead, the judge relies upon law enforcement obeying the judge's orders because that is what law enforcement officers do. It's right in the job title. But, if law enforcement chose to ignore judges, in general, there is very little that judges could do about that (and in some countries, law enforcement does routinely ignore judicial directions).

Some forms of executive branch authority to defy judicial orders is even legally codified, most starkly in the case of the pardon power.

  • Good answer, but surely in some cases like arrest warrants judges give direct instructions to law enforcement? Bench warrants in England are addressed to "all police constables and other peace officers" within the jurisdiction. Jul 6, 2018 at 12:59
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    Indeed, but the point is that no particular individual peace officer is responsible if no one enforces it. It is a direct instruction to law enforcement generally not to a particular person.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 6, 2018 at 14:16

A police officer can legally coerce a person to do a thing, i.e. they can use force. The courts do not directly use force (i.e. the judge does not shoot a person who fails to comply), instead, they tell someone else (who is legally empowered to use force) to enforce the order.


The textbook takes a broad overview of the law and does not dive into specifics (at least on the page you cite), while the specifics you cite are very dependent on details and context.

The court orders something as a result of a legal process; the police or sheriff's department carries out the enforcement of the law and the court's decision. Courts make decisions; law enforcement carries them out.

A judge orders an eviction though the legal process that determines the grounds for an eviction, and a sheriff's department (generally not the police) carries out the court order for the eviction. A defendant can be handcuffed in court when they are found guilty by the jury, when they are found in contempt of court by the judge, or even when they are arrested by the bailiff or police in attendance for suspicion of a crime as a result of the court proceedings.

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