So, the second season of Daredevil came out today, and internet lowlife that I am I'm already a few episodes in.

A pivotal part of the plot involves a criminal who police are well aware would almost certainly be killed (by a maniac they're currently investigating), who is willing to testify against plenty of people to qualify for witness protection. However, they make his witness protection status conditional upon wearing a wire and being directly involved in a sting, which would expose him to further personal bodily risk.

Since that amounts to extortion, it doesn't feel like it should be legal to do. They're forcing someone to put themselves in harm's way under threat of (almost certain) execution by a third party.

...However, I know that, for various reasons, the law often violently conflicts with what's ethically justifiable, so I'm curious whether that's actually something police can do.

Can police make their protection dependent upon direct involvement in a sting operation? I recognize that there's a difference between witness protection and regular police protection, and am curious how the above applies in each case. Within the context of the show, it's implied that both witness protection and regular police protection would be denied if the witness were to decline to participate. In case it's relevant, the show takes place in New York state.

And yes, I know that TV represents law inaccurately all the time. Don't worry; this isn't the first of a long list of TV-related questions. In my defense, when this question occurred to me, it really was Friday in Iceland.

  • Heresy, it's always Friday in Iceland. And I think the answer is they can do whatever they want, but I can't find the article discussing this I recently read. . .
    – dsolimano
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:20

1 Answer 1


Police have no duty to protect

WASHINGTON, June 27 - The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.

It seems from a quick reading of the article that Colorado law had tried to create such a duty, but SCOTUS decided that it either didn't, or couldn't.

  • I feel like this is a completely different situation: the OP describes an event where the person is put into harms way by a deliberate police action, rather than police inaction. But this of course comes from an uninformed view. I feel like there is a post around here somewhere that matches the OPs situation...
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 3:58
  • 1
    @Zizouz212 "the OP describes an event where the person is put into harms way by a deliberate police action, rather than police inaction" Where does the question say that? Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 3:20
  • @Zizouz212 I'm not sure that it is a completely different situation, but it certainly is significantly different. For example, police and correctional officers do have some duty to protect a person from harm when they are in their custody. The question, and it is hard one, is whether an informant is more like a beneficiary of a restraining order (no duty) or more like a person in custody (a duty exists). And, I'm not sure that there are any precedents that clearly draw that line
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 6:48
  • Even if the police have no duty to protect, it doesn't follow that they may set arbitrary conditions for the provision of protection. For instance, suppose the police said "We will provide protection only if you donate $100,000 to the mayor's campaign fund." I presume that would be illegal. So the question is whether it is legal for them to use cooperation as a condition. Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:52

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