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A person (woman) says that B person (man) had stolen an item (laptop), because she has seen B doing that, being few meters away from the location, watching how he has done it (watching her items which were visually identifiable easily with the unique colors and stickers on her laptop). Then also GPS signal was coming from the B's home, and when she called the messenger, the ringtone come from B's home (device was still connected to the WIFI).

When she called a police, they couldnt do anything and said that they have wait for a court order (search warrant) and even it was dubious if they would get search warrant at all. After weeks, the search warrant was issued, but no need to guess any joke out of it, there was already no trace of existence of the item in thief's home.

Similar situations happened quite many times around me, people being robbed quickly, and police being unable to do anything, and all such cases closed without any success.

  1. Des the police act correctly?
  2. What should the owner do in such a case, when the owner still knows the item's location exactly and immediate action is needed, but the police is not helping?

(p.s. Maybe jurisdiction doesn't much matter here, let's consider a typical civil country).

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    In what jurisdiction? Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 17:57
  • For example, if you have a stolen MacBook or iPhone, you will get notified by some iPhone nearby. So it is quite possible that the reported location is where a neighbours perfectly legal iPhone is.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:15

3 Answers 3

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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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  • It seems like there is a nuance that is missing from this answer. In OP's case the police do not know the property in question is actually stolen. OP told the police that the property belonged to OP and was stolen and is now at someone's house - but why should the police necessarily believe them? What if someone told the police that the TV in your living room - plainly visible from the window - is stolen? Should they just believe it and raid your pad? The difference from the bait bike situation is the police have very good reason to believe the bait bike is stolen.
    – emory
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 14:16
  • Making a false accusation would be a serious crime, so we can assume that you didn't make a false accusation. What would happen is a search warrant, a search, it's found the TV is legitimate, and then the police comes down on you.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:16
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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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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
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 19:49
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    So if there is a ruling or a decree, then other evidence can be seized.
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 19:54
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    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
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 20:01
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    The urgent necessity exception requires a decree by an investigator (which is distinct from a police officer).
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 20:37
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    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
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 0:01

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