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The following scenario: X person claimed that Y person had stolen an item and that thief was holding that item at home (because owner said that GPS signal was coming from thieves home). However, police said that they had to wait for court order to get in his/her home. Before police got the approval, GPS signal was quickly lost and the item was never found after that.

Did the police do it correctly, as there was needed an immediate action? What should owner do in such case, when owner still knows the item location exactly and immediate action is needed?


p.s. I don't know if jurisdiction will much matter here, let's consider a typical civil country.

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In the US, the default rule is that your home is your castle. In general, nobody, not even the police, can enter your home without your permission. The main exception to this rule is that police do not need your permission if they have a search warrant to search your home. To get a warrant, the police must convince a magistrate that they have good reason (ie, "probable cause"), such as a gps track, to believe they will find evidence of a crime if they search the house.

The police in your hypothetical are in a similar situation to police who are tracking the gps signal from a "bait car/bike/phone/tablet/package." (A bait car is a car/etc that has been fitted with a camera and gps tracker, and left out as bait for thieves.)

As long as the car is in public view, the police do not need a warrant to search it and arrest the person driving it. However, once the bait car is out of public view, where the police can no longer see it, they need a warrant to go in and recover it, even if they can see it on the tracker. (See, for example, the instructions for bait car programs from the Eugene and Reno Police Departments.)

(For phones, which may not be in "plain view" even if the thief is, the police use ring programs to make the phone ring. Hearing a phone respond to a ring program gives them probable cause under the "hearing" version of the "plain view" doctrine.)

Bottom line: In the US, the police need a search warrant. Since search warrants take time and effort, police may be unwilling to get a warrant for something as low valued as a phone.

If the police can't or won't help, there are various options for privately enforcing one's rights. These range from the legal -- knocking on the door and confronting the thief -- to the illegal -- left to your imagination.

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  • Excellent answer. thanks – T.Todua Jul 6 at 8:22
  • You are welcome. And thank you for asking a good question. – Just a guy Jul 6 at 15:36
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Assuming a U.S. jurisdiction, the police are entirely within their rights to wait for the issuance of a search warrant and it is probably better practice to do so in a case where recovery of stolen property is at issue.

There are exceptions to the warrant requirement, but they generally involve "exigent circumstances" involving a risk of either physical harm to someone inside, or destruction of evidence.

A person trying to get the property back or get compensation has multiple options. Continue to work with police, bring a civil suit for return of the property (which would ultimately be enforced by law enforcement), or bring a civil suit against the suspected thief for conversion and use the GPS data as proof (perhaps with a screenshot).

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  • good answer, thanks! – T.Todua Jul 6 at 8:23
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To pick a civil law jurisdiction, Art. 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Georgia holds that

  1. Personal space and communication shall be inviolable. No one shall have the right to enter a place of residence or other possessions, or to conduct a search, against the will of the possessor. These rights may be restricted only in accordance with law for ensuring national security or public safety, or for protecting the rights of others, insofar as is necessary in a democratic society, based on a court decision or without a court decision in cases of urgent necessity provided for by law. In cases of urgent necessity, a court shall be notified of the restriction of the right no later than 24 hours after the restriction, and the court shall approve the lawfulness of the restriction no later than 24 hours after the submission of the notification.

We would then turn to the Criminal Procedure Code to see what is allowed by law. The law of searches starts at Art. 119. Art 121 allows personal searches of detainees under certain circumstances, without the requirement of a court order. Otherwise per Art. 120 every search requires a court ruling to authorize the search. Therefore, in Georgia the police are legally compelled to wait for a court order. US common law rules like the plain sight rule would not be applicable

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  • The second sentence of Art. 120 §5 allows search and seizure of items not covered by the court order. As you say, the first sentence allows search and seizure of “[anything] that is referred to in a ruling or decree...” The second sentence says “Also, all other objects… that may be of an evidentiary value for that case, or that clearly indicates another offence… – Just a guy Jul 6 at 19:49
  • So if there is a ruling or a decree, then other evidence can be seized. – user6726 Jul 6 at 19:54
  • Just as in the plain view rule, where the police must be there lawfully. (Also, Georgia allows an exception to the "ruling or decree" requirement "in the case of urgent necessity...") – Just a guy Jul 6 at 20:01
  • The urgent necessity exception requires a decree by an investigator (which is distinct from a police officer). – user6726 Jul 6 at 20:37
  • Where do you see that a police officer cannot be an investigator? The definition in Art. 37.1 says, "An investigator is a public official who, within his/her powers, is authorised to investigate a criminal case." It goes on to say that "a prosecutor who is personally involved in the investigation shall have the status of an investigator." And in Article 120, covering search procedures, the person searching is always referred to as "an investigator." We may need to find an expert on Georgian law, or someone who can read the untranslated texts. – Just a guy Jul 7 at 0:01

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