2

Scenario: the private citizens in charge of a building (or floor of a building) forbid everyone inside from leaving, and have locked all exits except for the emergency exit. However, the emergency exit is tied to an alarm, and this is happening in a jurisdiction where it's illegal to set off the alarm of an emergency exit when there isn't actually any emergency.

  1. Can those inside legally use the emergency exit to leave, even though it isn't an emergency?
  2. If those inside can't legally use the emergency exit, are those who locked all the other exits innocent of illegal detainment? After all, everyone inside could leave by the emergency exit if they so desired, so they aren't actually trapped.
4
  • 1
    I wonder if I could argue that being detained against my will by a private citizen amounts to kidnapping, which (at least to me) is an emergency - and therefore perfectly justifies my use of an alarmed emergency exit? – brhans May 20 '19 at 19:57
  • Do "those in charge" say why they are doing this, or how long they intend to keep the doors locked? Are they armed? Could those being held plausibly and safely force them to give up the keys? – David Siegel May 20 '19 at 21:31
  • Do you have a real jurisdiction in mind? Question 1 hinges on details of the supposed statute (and other laws in the jurisdiction). – user6726 May 20 '19 at 21:48
  • Is this a workplace? – mkennedy May 21 '19 at 20:22
1

I am only aware of this in the context of Walmart Night Lockin (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/wal-mart-attacked-for-locking-in-overnight-workers-at-its-stores-74288.html). This article is over 10 years old - so hopefully Walmart has in the meantime changed its shameful ways.

The article says that workers would be reprimanded or dismissed if they used the emergency exits for a non-emergency.

IANAL but I say if you want to leave the WalMart and the regular doors are locked, then it is an emergency. However, as long as WalMart leaves the emergency exits unlocked they are not holding you hostage.

1

The people in charge, unless there is an emergency that justifies holding people against their will, are probably violating the fire safety laws. The details depend on the jurisdiction, but there are tables in the fire safety code indicating how many exits there must be depending on the area and number of people on a floor in a building. There are also rules that doors that lead to the outside must be marked as exits, and doors that look like they might lead to the outside but don't must be marked "not an exit" or similar language. ("Code" is a generic term for law or binding regulation in this situation.)

So there are many probable fire safety violations, including

  1. A door marked as an exit that can't be opened by anyone from the inside
  2. A door with the exit markings removed to try to game the system and avoid violating rule 1.
  3. The fire inspection was probably passed on the basis that all the doors leading to the outside can be opened by anyone from the inside. Locking the ones that don't have alarms would reduce the number of exits below the minimum required in the fire safety code.

If a person decided to leave through the alarmed exit, conceivable defenses are that (1) due to the numerous safety violations, the person who left considered the entity to be dishonest and thus didn't believe the statement on the sign that using the door with no emergency would be illegal or (2) the person set off the alarm as a way of reporting the safety violation to the authorities.

-3

Can those inside legally use the emergency exit to leave, even though it isn't an emergency?

If you don't have to go through the emergency exit then don't. If you were really being held against your will for a long time or were in danger then go for it, but if the people just want to talk to you for a little while and you don't want to be there don't. It's about the situation not just if you are there and don't want to be.

If those inside can't legally use the emergency exit, are those who locked all the other exits innocent of illegal detainment? After all, everyone inside could leave by the emergency exit if they so desired, so they aren't actually trapped.

You could go out the normal door if you aren't trapped there. Again, a police officer or prosecutor will look at the actual event and the intentions of those involved, but in general, the person who does not want you to leave should not threaten you or use force to keep you there.

There is a difference between some friends standing in the door saying no we don't want you to leave yet as a joke and someone who wants to hold you captive is what I mean. Being that you are asking on here and did not run to the police immediately I'd assume you were not held hostage, but most likely someone at work or whatever wanted you to do something before you left. While they still shouldn't do that, it's a little different than an actual hostage situation.

The officer involved will have to make the call, but if it's a situation where there is no threat to you or assumed threat most police officers won't consider you a hostage.

12
  • I'm probably the only one on here who has dealt with this irl, but ok on the downvote lol. – Putvi May 20 '19 at 20:24
  • 2
    I didn't downvote, but the question says that 'those in charge" have locked all doors but the emergency exit, and at least implies that they won't unlock them. That sounds more like being held captive, and less like a joke, to me. I think this is a hypothetical and has not actually happened, or perhaps it is from a work of fiction. This answer doesn't seem to be fully accepting the premises of the question. – David Siegel May 20 '19 at 21:29
  • I understand they locked the doors, but that still doesn't mean its going to the dark places it could. Lets say you are in a dorm building at college and the people who run it lock it to talk to you for a few minutes and would have let you out in an emergency or something along those lines. In Illinois at least, unlawful restraint is a major crime carrying 30 years in some cases. No sane police officer is going to arrest some college kids who just wanted to talk to you for something that serious, but if someone really intended to hold you hostage they would for example. – Putvi May 20 '19 at 21:31
  • Yes, the question is not clear just how close to kidnapping or false imprisonment or other unlawful restraint the situation is coming. – David Siegel May 20 '19 at 21:33
  • Not to demean them, but if they are here talking to use it didn't come far enough. – Putvi May 20 '19 at 21:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.