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Let's say that neighbors can hear glass cracking and screams coming from within a house. After hearing it, one of the neighbors notifies the police, who come inside the house and handcuff the lone occupant after suspecting that a murder may be taking place (but they are unsure). Is this behavior allowed? Is it possible for the occupant of the residence to file a police report accusing the neighbor and the police of forcing their way inside?

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  • Even if this is a hypothetical, you should specify the jurisdiction you are most interested in.
    – o.m.
    Dec 8, 2023 at 18:56
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    How do the police know the report is bogus? Dec 8, 2023 at 21:53

4 Answers 4

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  • Can the police enter the home?
    In most jurisdictions, yes. It would be totally contrary to the purpose of having a police force if they had to wait for the owner to show up. Courts will decide after the fact, usually based on what the police claim they knew and thought at the time. "Breaking noises and screams" are usually a justification unless the police had reason to think otherwise.

  • Can the police handcuff the occupant?
    In many jurisdictions, sometimes. This will depend on how the occupant acts towards the police, and how the police perceive this. If the occupant appears calm and non-threatening, quite possibly not. If the occupant appears agitated and threatening, likely yes. This may or may not constitute an arrest in legal terms, just the use of force to defuse the situation.

  • Can the occupant file a police report?
    In most jurisdictions, yes. Then the prosecution office and/or a court will look at the evidence and decide if the police broke any rules regarding the entry and use of force. It may also be possible to file a report with police internal supervisors, details on that will vary from country to country.

The key questions here are if the caller and/or the police acted in bad faith, and if so the next question will be if that can be proven. A history of such actions may help.


Since bdb484 asked, in Berlin, , this would be §36 ASOG:

Police may enter [...] a residence without the consent of the resident [...] if it is required to avert a present danger for life, limb or freedom of a person (my translation). Other legislation and legal precedent defines when they may assume such a danger exists. The most low-level complaint against an unjustified search would be a Dienstaufsichtsbeschwerde.

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  • If there was no murder and no compelling proof of a murder, may the police still enter the house?
    – sherl.lol
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:35
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    @sherl.lol, depends on the country. Usually, the police do not need proof of murder to investigate. Otherwise, there could be no investigation before trial. It is enough that they have a reasonable suspicion and act in good faith.
    – o.m.
    Dec 8, 2023 at 19:56
  • @sherl.lol There's no need for murder, the standard is usually similar to serious injury or threat thereof. So a reasonable belief that grandma's fallen and can't get up would be acceptable.
    – user71659
    Dec 9, 2023 at 4:27
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    @bdb484, it is about as solid as one can get when the OP does not give a jurisdiction (and I asked for clarification in the comments). There is no global law on issues like that, but certain patterns emerge among the countries with a rule of law.
    – o.m.
    Dec 11, 2023 at 5:30
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    @sherl.lol in most jurisdictions, standards for police conduct are more about what they believe to be happening rather than what is actually happening. If it appears that a murder (or other serious crime) is taking place then they can act appropriately. As soon as they determine that there is no crime, they have to change their behavior accordingly.
    – phoog
    Dec 11, 2023 at 9:58
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Many jurisdictions have the concept of emergency or exigent circumstances such that they allow the police to enter premises in scenarios like the one in the question, without having to comply with the rules that pertain to non-emergency or non-exigent circumstances (such as having to obtain a warrant beforehand).

Generally speaking, the less urgent or serious the apparent circumstances, the more the police must do to enter; conversely, the more urgent or serious the circumstances, the less the police must do to enter. Some jurisdictions have frameworks that are essentially like the following, from less urgent/serious to more urgent/serious:

apply for a warrant from a magistrate or judge -> seek authorisation from an officer of particular rank or higher -> seek permission from the occupier -> no need to seek permission

If the police "apprehend serious bodily injury" (Syed v Director of Public Prosecutions [2010] EWHC 81), they can enter the home and they can do so without a warrant. This is provided for at section 17(1)(e) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984:

17 Entry for purpose of arrest etc. (1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, and without prejudice to any other enactment, a constable may enter and search any premises for the purpose— ... (e) of saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property.

At common law, the police also have a power to enter private property without a warrant to stop or prevent a 'breach of the peace'. According to Friswell v Chief Constable of Essex [2004] EWHC 3009 (QB):

(1) The purpose of the power is to deal essentially with emergencies;

(2) Police officers should exercise special care in such cases. Only in exceptional circumstances will it be justifiable to enter into private premises in the context of a domestic dispute to deal with or prevent a further breach of the peace;

(3) The officer must, before he enters, be satisfied on reasonable grounds that there is a real and imminent risk of a breach of the peace;

(4) Where the original breach has not occurred in the police officer’s presence, the further breach of the peace apprehended must be immediate or about to occur;

(5) The threat to the peace must be sufficiently real and present to justify the extreme step of entering private premises and depriving of his liberty a citizen who is not at the time acting unlawfully.

Of course the occupant can file a complaint against or even sue the police (see e.g. Friswell). Whether or not the police are disciplined or must compensate the complainant depends on what they reasonably believed or apprehended about the circumstances.

Case citation credit to Can I come in? The perils of summary entry to a home, on Police Law Blog.

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Let's spin a tale and look at the legality of it then:

Alice is a sadist, and Bob is a masochist. They are in a consenting relationship. Their neighbor Charly knows nothing about this. He only sees Alice chain up Bob through the window and calls the police, telling them that Alice is holding Bob captive.

When the police arrive, they hear the sound of Bob being flogged through the door. Breaking down the door, they put Alice in handcuffs and liberate Bob for instant questioning... only to be told by both that this was all with consent, leading to both being released (and in many places, the police paying for a new door).

Now, what's the legal situation for a possible claim of Alice and Bob's claim against the police?

in the

Any claim against the police would be brought under 42 USC 1983 and the search-and-seizure provision of the fourth amendment. The question for the court now is, was it clearly established that a reasonable officer could not break down the door to investigate a case where a possible serious crime was reported and they heard evidence of some other crime? No, in fact, the opposite is established: the standard for a search, even of a home, is called probable cause, and the situation at hand would give probable cause, because it is quite probable that there is the alleged crime happening given the limited knowledge of the investigators.

Illinois v Gates lays the best understanding for probable cause, and explains what is and isn't probable cause in section III. There they elaborate that there is no hard test, and then cite Brinegar v. United States, 338 U. S. 160, 338 U. S. 176 (1949).

In dealing with probable cause, . . . as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.

Further, they observe another case to elaborate on when probable cause exists

Our observation in United States v. Cortez, 449 U. S. 411, 449 U. S. 418 (1981), regarding "particularized suspicion," is also applicable to the probable cause standard: "The process does not deal with hard certainties, but with probabilities. Long before the law of probabilities was articulated as such, practical people formulated certain common sense conclusions about human behavior; jurors as factfinders are permitted to do the same -- and so are law enforcement officers. Finally, the evidence thus collected must be seen and weighed not in terms of library analysis by scholars, but as understood by those versed in the field of law enforcement."

Now, that language is why Cornell says this about probable cause:

Probable cause exists when there is a fair probability that a search will result in evidence of a crime being discovered.7 For a warrantless search, probable cause can be established by in-court testimony after the search. In the case of a warrant search, however, an affidavit or recorded testimony must support the warrant by indicating on what basis probable cause exists.8

  1. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 238.
  2. Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 564 (1971).

Our situation above would have given rise to a search warrant if someone called in ("I see someone in chains to the wall." and "I hear someone being beaten" are both indicators of a crime being commited), but the nature of the crime would mean that by the time a judge would have looked at the affidavits, the probable crime would be no longer in progress - which is why in such exigent circumstances a warrantless search and seizure is allowed till the situation is clarified that no crime was taking place in the first place.

The best writeup of what are such exigent circumstances is from Missouri v. McNeely:

When officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so. Circumstances may make obtaining a warrant impractical such that dissipation will support an exigency, but that is a reason to decide each case on its facts.

And further in Sotomayor's majority opinion:

A variety of circumstances may give rise to an exigency sufficient to justify a warrantless search, including law enforcement’s need to provide emergency assistance to an occupant of a home, Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47–48 (2009) (per curiam), engage in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect, United States v. San- tana, 427 U.S. 38, 42–43 (1976), or enter a burning building to put out a fire and investigate its cause, Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509–510 (1978). As is relevant here, we have also recognized that in some circumstances law enforcement officers may conduct a search without a warrant to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence. See Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U.S. 291, 296 (1973); Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 40–41 (1963) (plurality opinion). While these contexts do not necessarily involve equiva- lent dangers, in each a warrantless search is potentially reasonable because “there is compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant.” Tyler, 436 U. S., at 509.

This is roughly the bar to enter the home, and the sounds of someone being beaten do raise the bar for both possible destruction of evidence on progress and the person in need of help exigent circumstance to conduct a warrantless search.

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one of the neighbors notifies the police, who come inside the house and handcuff the lone occupant after suspecting that a murder may be taking place (but they are unsure). Is this behavior allowed?

For the most part, yes. The police have a report that leads them to believe that a crime may have taken place; they have a duty (or at least the authority) to secure the scene of the possible crime and prevent or deter further crime.

Is it possible for the occupant of the residence to file a police report accusing the neighbor and the police of forcing their way inside?

Yes. The facts given in the question indicate that there really were sounds of breaking glass and screaming, however, so (without any additional facts suggesting some sort of misconduct) it's likely that the report would not lead to disciplinary action against the police, much less criminal charges. Similarly, if the neighbor's report to the police was truthful, there would not be any ground for charges against the neighbor. (However, if the neighbor knew that the sounds were not evidence of a crime then criminal charges might be indicated, or a civil suit.)

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