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In Los Angeles, California, if apparent police show up at my door with an apparent search warrant in their hands at 3am, how can I independently verify this?

I don't want to be tricked into opening the door.

One option is to call the local police department, and ask...is this the best? Will the police wait the 10 minutes this might require? Can I really trust my phone line? I feel like internet security is better and would prefer to use a secure government website.

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There are two questions here:

  1. Is it really the police, or someone pretending to be the police in order to stage a home invasion? If it is the police they will be wearing uniforms and showing you their badges. I don't know how common it is for criminals to impersonate police officers.

  2. Do they have a valid search warrant? Once you have established that they really are police your best course is to stand back and let them in. Arguing about search warrants and "fruit of the poisoned tree" is a job for a lawyer later on.

One option might be to quickly dial 911, put the phone down but still listening, and then open the door while saying "are you police, can I see your badge?". If they are police then no problem. If they turn out to be imposters then the 911 dispatcher should be able to figure it out and send the real police around.

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    I like the idea of simply letting the 911 operator hear things, thanks!
    – bobuhito
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 17:44
  • "Once you have established that they really are police" and they have a search warrant, then your best course is to stand back and let them in. If police knocks on your door and asks if they can look around, your best course is often not to stand back and let them in if they don't have a warrant. If police lie about having a warrant, that may very likely make any evidence they find inadmissible. If they don't claim to have a warrant and you let them in, any evidence they find is probably admissible.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 11:12
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Search warrants are frequently sealed and not accessible to the public until after they are served, so that someone checking public records can't be tipped off that law enforcement agents are headed their way and hide evidence or flee.

Calling 911 or a local police department is the best that you can do to verify that a search warrant someone verbally states that they have is bona fide (although looking through a peep hole in a door at a document is a good second best solution). Neither are ideal or perfect solutions.

You can trust that if you called 911 or the police that this is who you are reaching. Given the time urgency 911 would probably be a better choice. You can't trust that they are telling you the truth and law enforcement is allowed to lie to achieve lawful criminal justice ends in most circumstances in the U.S. (at least as a matter of constitutional criminal procedure, state law may vary). This said, you don't have other choices, and if you resist you are likely to end up dead from a barrage of police bullets.

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    @bobuhito You can sue for just about anything you damn well please. Problem being your chances of actually winning. And that's what ohwilleke is pointing out: the example he mentions is almost certain to be held as valid/acceptable without local laws to the contrary, and your claim will fail. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 3:22
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    @bobuhito responsible in a causal sense is not the same as responsible in a legal sense - police owe you no duty of care and cannot be held legally liable.
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 4:41
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    @bobuhito Additional, the quote for Dale has been already decided by Scotus...nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/…
    – paulj
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 15:23
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    @bobuhito Generally, the sole civil remedy for law enforcement misconduct is a lawsuit under 42 USC 1983. Sovereign immunity generally bars all state law actions. There are no other federal claims. A claim under 42 USC 1983 requires a showing of an intentional violation of a well established constitutional right to prevail. It is extremely unlikely that there are grounds for a civil lawsuit in the burglary-murder example in which the 911 dispatcher intentionally lies to the person on the other end of the call. Not saying it's fair, but this area of the law often isn't fair.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 19:44
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    @bobuhito Your best bet in a civil suit would be public pressure. Although, as ohwilleke keenly details in his above comment, law enforcement is pretty much guaranteed to be victorious in a suit (worst case scenario they win on appeal), there is still time and effort spent on the process. If enough public outrage occurs as a result of your tragedy (seems unlikely to me, but outrage can be unpredictable), the defendant may decide it's simpler, cheaper, and/or in the greater public interest to just end things quickly with a settlement. Which does happen sometimes, but it's hardly assured. Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 7:44

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