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A friend of mine described this situation to me recently:

The scene is a hotel lobby in the middle of the night. Three people, two men and a woman, enter. The woman appears to be drunk and unconscious, and is being supported by one of the men. The other man smells of alcohol, but is otherwise sober. They try to get a room. The receptionist, aware that the hotel is situated in the vicinity of a red-light district, is suspicious and lies that there's no room available. The trio say okay, they'll try another hotel, and leave. The receptionist then calls the police.

Can the police act? On the one hand, the circumstances can be interpreted as a rape has happened or is about to happen, e.g. a date rape drug that knocks the woman out has been administered; on the other hand the receptionist can't be sure of that and the three could e.g. be blood relatives or even good Samaritans.

If this does meet the threshold for "reasonable suspicion", does it further meet the threshold for "probable cause"? If this does not meet the threshold for "reasonable suspicion", is it worth calling the police in this situation?

If it matters, the country is Singapore.

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    "Reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause" are terms of art in US criminal law. At least one page I found online suggests that Singapore police may arrest someone without warrant if they merely "reasonably suspict" that the person has committed an "arrestable offence." This seems like a lower bar than in the US, but of course the terms might mean rather different things in the two jurisdictions. If you want to know how Singapore law would apply to these facts, you may want to ask just that without using terms like "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause." – phoog Feb 25 at 19:40
  • Reasonable suspicion and probable cause, in particular, are used in U.S. law to determine if police have violated the 4th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, mostly to determine if the exclusionary rule applies. I don't think that Singapore has an exclusionary rule, or the same sort of constitutional rights, or civil liability for police that is nearly as expansive in the U.S. and it is very likely that some of the conduct observed is a crime in Singapore even if it wouldn't be elsewhere. See, e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_law_of_Singapore – ohwilleke Feb 26 at 4:49
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Answering the question for Singapore will be difficult, since it would require a non-trivial knowledge of Singaporean constitution law and interpretation especially regarding search and seizure. In the US, such a call to the police could create – for the police – a reasonable suspicion of a crime in progress. "Reasonable suspicion" is more than just a "gut feeling", so the question is whether the information provides would be specific enough that you can logically infer that a crime may be about to happen. You need "specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant" an intrusion (Terry v. Ohio,392 U.S. 1; Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 for a newer case with more citations saying this). This would not be enough for an arrest which requires probable cause, but a search could then yield evidence needed for an arrest. Or, it might establish that there was no crime in the works.

The clerk, or a passer-by, can call the police and report whatever they want, and their suspicion can be ludicrous, still they would not be in legal jeopardy for reporting. However, what they say to the police would be important, because they have to be believable and specific-enough that their report creates reasonable suspicion. Just calling and saying "there is something suspicious, you need to investigate" would not be enough.

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Singapore, being a former British Colony, would likely use Common Law Terms like "Reasonable Suspicion" and "Probable Cause" (Probable Cause is a the general principle that covers terms such as Reasonable Suspicion, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, ect. used in law.). At the very least, it would be reasonable to assume it is Common-Law Hybrid at best (Singapore is way stricter to criminals than most Common Law nations by punishment system only.)

The fundamental misunderstanding of theses terms expressed here is that it applies to ordinary citizens alerting the police. It does not. It only serves as rules of operation that constrain police officers to the limits of what they can do with respect to the case. There should be no reason why your friend should not call the police to (in good faith, mind you) report a possible suspicious action that may or may not be a crime in progress. It could be a crime... it could be perfectly logical explanation.

For comparison, I had to call police out to my neighbors house after I returned home after dark and observed a man with a flash light looking at a window before running behind their house as I drove into my parking spot. Additionally, I had observed some unusual people who were driving into the end of the street and driving off when approached a week earlier. This of course seemed to me to be the behavior of a possible thief or peeping Tom (On top of that, it was one of the coldest nights of the year, so no body was out in the neighborhood). Cops rolled up and after I explained the situation, one officer knocked on my neighbors door and then returned back. Turns out the guy slinking around the house was an appraiser (explaining the need to look at windows and go to the rear of the house) that the family was aware of (his "suspicious" behavior of ducking behind the house as I drove up was just happenstance and as far as I was aware, he never knew I was there).

Now, I didn't get in trouble for this because that is part of the cops' job duties. The situation was unusual enough that there could be something there... at least, something that scared a citizen, but was ultimately perfectly normal and not a threat. Hell, its better to call and be wrong than to not call and be right.

  • What kind of appraiser works in the dead of the night in the dead of winter? – zibadawa timmy Feb 26 at 6:45
  • @zibadawatimmy: The one my neighbors use I guess. shrugs My estimation of the situation is that they couldn't meet him during the day and it wasn't the dead of night... maybe 7-8 pm... It's certainly late night for such a service, but I wouldn't say it's "Dead of Night". – hszmv Feb 26 at 13:50

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