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  • Warrants in an "Imminent Danger" Situation

    I'm still working on the shootout scene in the industrial facility. I understand that in 95+% of cases a warrant is required to make forcible entry. My question here is, what would happen in a situation where you had reason to believe that another officer (two of them, actually) was in imminent danger? Here's the setup:
    • You're a narcotics detective, working with a colleague to track down two drug suspects who were positively identified from mug shots by a railroad special agent who saw them at close range while driving a van which was found to contain twelve kilos of cocaine once they fled it after a short high-speed chase. You have arrest warrants for both suspects.
    • Your colleague received a tip that one of the suspects was working at the industrial facility and went there to try to obtain more information. Your boss went with him.
    • An hour or so later, you receive a text message from your colleague: "Need you in area. Bring backup." You contact the local station and meet one of their units at a restaurant across the street from the facility. You figure that your colleague has obtained a tip on the other suspect.
    • Shortly after you arrive there, your colleague calls your cell phone. He asks you to go to the judge and seek a search warrant, and begins detailing suspicious activity which he and your boss have observed (Edit To Add: While lawfully present inside the plant and walking through the facility with the permission of the plant manager). While he is talking, you hear gunshots over the telephone. The call cuts off.
    • You go across the street to the plant, but it has gone into full lock-down mode. All the gates are shut and they do not acknowledge or answer any calls. The fencing and gates are secure and substantial.
    While I would like to know the correct textbook answer to what should be done in this situation, I'd also like to know if and how gut instinct might override textbook correctness. Where I think I'm going with this is having the railroad special agent run a locomotive right through the side gate...there's a railroad engine house literally across the street from it.
    Last edited by ehbowen; 05-28-2019, 05:51 AM.

  • #2
    Generally speaking, a government official requires a warrant (or permission of the owner or other person in lawful control of property) to make any entry to private property. However, in your scenario you have specified that your fictional detective holds valid arrest warrants for known persons, and there appears to be probable cause placing those persons in a known location. Those facts arguably justify entry to serve the warrants; the operable word being "arguably". Whenever possible and practicable a warrant should be sought prior to entering any private property (exceptions being certain knowledge of serious crimes in progress, certain knowledge of intent to destroy evidence, etc). Again speaking generally, certain knowledge indicating a crime in progress might pass muster as exigent circumstances obviating the warrant requirement (again, arguably speaking, and every lawyer ever born lives in arguable territory).

    Any action (detention, stop and frisk, search, seizure, arrest) taken without benefit of a warrant (court order) will always be subjected to a much higher level of judicial review, and any results are far more likely to be excluded from evidence in court.

    I am not a constitutional scholar, nor am I a lawyer, and I do not play either role in a motion picture or TV series. The rule remains however, whenever possible a warrant should be obtained prior to the trespass on private property. The reality does not fit with fictional depiction, but rather than hard charging enforcement in any situation it is usually better to obtain judicial review and orders to proceed.

    "Gut instinct" is better known as "career ending" experience. Enlisting a railroad special agent to plow through a locked plant entrance with a locomotive is probably better known as signing over your house and pension fund to someone's lawyer. Great for fictional depiction, not so great for career enhancement.

    Writing a crime story, authoring a novel, producing a motion picture, or other creative endeavor is one thing; in law enforcement we always have to keep in mind the requirements for admissible evidence (always coloring inside the lines, never letting our crayons stray outside the lines).

    Comment


    • ehbowen
      ehbowen commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you, sir; this is very helpful.

  • #3
    Originally posted by retired1995 View Post
    I am not a constitutional scholar, nor am I a lawyer, and I do not play either role in a motion picture or TV series. The rule remains however, whenever possible a warrant should be obtained prior to the trespass on private property. The reality does not fit with fictional depiction, but rather than hard charging enforcement in any situation it is usually better to obtain judicial review and orders to proceed.
    Then let's explore this path: In such a scenario, how quickly could one expect to obtain a valid warrant to make forcible entry? Assume major metropolitan area before lunch on a normal working day. Would the officer detailed above (called to the vicinity with backup by his colleague) need to leave the scene and speak with a magistrate personally, or could he communicate known facts by radio or cell phone to another officer who was present at the courthouse and seek an expedited issuance?

    Once such a warrant is issued, back to the locomotive scenario. The security guards (who are all involved to some degree with the illegal activity which proceeds under the cover of perfectly legitimate industrial processes) have either left their posts, leaving the gates locked, or are refusing to answer or acknowledge calls from the outside. In that situation, and with the knowledge that a valid warrant for forcible entry was issued, would the SA be justified in suggesting that the plant perimeter be breached in that fashion and then acting to make it happen?

    Comment


    • #4
      I’ve got to ask – what is the goal of your characters here? Do they want to save the lives of their fellow officers, who reasonably appear to be in imminent danger, or are they more worried about the admissibility of any evidence that might be found, or the legality of any arrests that might be made once inside the premises?

      Take a step back for a moment and decide what their priorities are – lives or legalities?

      There is a legal concept know as Exigent Circumstances (or as the bad guys sometimes mispronounce it, extra gent circus pants). When circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts, you have Exigent Circumstances and generally speaking, a warrant isn’t needed.

      In the scenario you describe one can articulate a reasonable belief that the lives of officers inside are in imminent danger. This belief is reinforced by the fact that the premises is locked down and those persons who would normally be available at the perimeter to allow access to emergency personnel are absent. So in this situation you don’t worry about a warrant and just make entry, but for the purpose of saving the officer’s lives. Anything else that occurs (discovery of contraband, arrests of wanted persons) is incidental and usually covered under the Exigent Circumstances exception.

      Now stop and think for just a minute. Let’s assume that for some odd reason the court were to rule that your Exigent Circumstances entry was unlawful. What remedy would the court order for such an egregious error under the circumstances in question? Remember, your intervention cheated the bad guys out of an opportunity to kill the officers. Do you suppose the court would order the officers to be locked up in the factory alone once more to give the bad guys a second shot at killing them?

      In real life this is a no brainer. You go in to rescue the officers and sort out the rest afterward.
      Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

      Comment


      • #5
        Thank you. Yes, the priority is the lives of the two officers. Save them and then all the evidence they found before the shootout and lockdown...when they were legally present with the consent of the plant manager...should be admissible.

        I should also mention that the officer inside who is down and wounded...the boss of the two detectives...is also, in the story, the childhood best friend of the RR SA. He would be willing to take a career-ending risk in order to rescue him.

        Comment


        • #6
          Anything found in the exigency is also admissible. You keep arguing about points you don’t seem understand, even when they are explained to you.

          Look, it’s a STORY, not a legal textbook. No one cares about how many decimal points were left.
          Now go home and get your shine box!

          Comment


          • #7
            Originally posted by ehbowen View Post
            I should also mention that the officer inside who is down and wounded...the boss of the two detectives...is also, in the story, the childhood best friend of the RR SA. He would be willing to take a career-ending risk in order to rescue him.
            My friend, you have been watching too many episodes of Law & Order, Social Justice Warriors, where if every I isn't dotted and every T isn't crossed, the investigating officer is fired and sent to jail, while the guilty felon is freed with the apologies of the court and given $100,000 to compensate him for his inconvenience. That isn't real life.

            There is no career ending risk to the responding officers based in the scenario you have described. The minute they hear shots fired and the phone goes dead, its game over. Everyone heads to the location and enters tactically. If they have to break down a gate or damage property to do so, it just happens and in a heartbeat. If it later turns out they were in error then apologies will be made to the property owner and the city will pay the damages, but no one's - i repeat - no one's career will be on the line for something like this.

            I don't know what exists now, but back in the day before I retired, LAPD had within its organization something known as the "Wrong Door Detail." I even had the phone number for it somewhere in my organizer. If someone from LAPD kicked down the wrong door or damaged a door under circumstances where repair was needed immediately, you called them. I don't know how they worked - if they just boarded up the place or if they had carpenters who came out and made it look like new, but it was interesting to note that they knocked down enough doors to have a program like this.

            Keith or any LAPD folks out there - if you can clarify, please do.

            Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

            Comment


            • #8
              Originally posted by ehbowen View Post
              You have arrest warrants for both suspects.
              In my jurisdiction (and I assume other jurisdictions have a similar setup) an arrest warrant grants police the power to forcibly enter a premises, for the purpose of arresting the person who is the subject of the warrant.

              So if there is a warrant issued for the arrest of Mickey Mouse, and the police have credible information that Mickey Mouse is working in a particular factory, that would give police power to enter the factory (by force if necessary) to arrest him.

              A separate search warrant wouldn't be necessary.

              Comment


              • #9
                Some of the fine details on this vary by State. In my jurisdiction, if I have an arrest warrant for a person, and I know they're inside a home or building, I can legally enter to effect the arrest. This isn't always the best tactic but it's an option. Definitely something to weigh the pro's and con's of as well as the need for immediate apprehension versus grabbing the offender 'next time'.

                The ace in the hole for a lot of entry is the exception to the 4th Amendment legally dubbed Exigency. If there's an emergency, someone's well being is in danger, I can make entry. I have to address the cause of the exigency if I go that route; I can't be at an underage drinking party, see someone passed out, and make entry to chase the drinkers. If I make entry under Exigency, it's to provide medical care to the unconscious person. Of course, then if any of the revelers get in the way, they're Obstructing. Anything I observe is also free game since I'm in a legal position to see it. If I force entry to provide medical aid, see a grow op, then I'm going to secure the scene after aid is rendered and get my search warrant.

                This is working around to the 'shots fired' aspect. If we know rounds are flying, we're operating under Exigency. There's a shooter or shooters who are an immediate risk to the health and well being of the public as well as officers, we're not waiting on the formality of a warrant. We're going to handle business or we're going to set up a perimeter and contain the offenders until SWAT shows up.

                While I appreciate realism or a sense of it in writing, by the same token, you don't need to be hamstrung by the specifics for story purposes. Do what works well for the drama of the moment and sort it out later.

                Comment


                • #10
                  The short answer is this: An officer does not need a warrant to make entry into a building when they actually hear rounds being fired off in the building.
                  Last edited by just joe; 05-29-2019, 11:35 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by L-1 View Post

                    My friend, you have been watching too many episodes of Law & Order, Social Justice Warriors, where if every I isn't dotted and every T isn't crossed, the investigating officer is fired and sent to jail, while the guilty felon is freed with the apologies of the court and given $100,000 to compensate him for his inconvenience. That isn't real life.
                    You may not believe this, but I've never watched a single episode of Law & Order. I essentially gave up watching TV on any kind of a regular basis when my favorite program, Battlestar Galactica, was canceled. The original Battlestar Galactica...back during the Carter administration!

                    Oh, yes, I've caught a few shows here and there since. My dad was a fan of The Fall Guy, and I watched a few episodes of Hardcastle & McCormick when I was in the Navy, but I couldn't tell you any of their plot lines. When I was working at Hobby Airport and learning to fly in my spare time the flight school typically had Cops on in their lounge and I saw a few episodes of that...but that was twenty years ago.

                    True story: I was working graveyard shifts and slept through 9/11. When I woke up there was a message from Mom on my answering machine about it, so I turned on the TV and watched some of the continuing coverage. Some time after that, my TV broke. I didn't know about it until the next June...because that's how long it took me to try turning on the TV again. That's how much television I watch.

                    And that's why I'm asking a lot of questions and some which may seem to be obvious or stupid questions. You're right that I'm probably over-thinking this, what can I say? I work as an (operating) engineer and was raised by a dad who helped put men on the moon. Over-thinking goes with the territory. I have an idea where I'm going with this, as I said in my first post, but the question in my mind is how best to get there. Just a couple posts above yours you'll see where retired1995 opined that my scenario could/would be a career ender. But I'm inclined to think more along your own lines. Have the officers outside look at the locked-down facility, with reinforced fences and riser barriers which could stop a semi, and then the railroad SA looks across the street to the roundhouse and says, "I can get in there!"

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Sounds fake and is getting so detail oreinted that it is boring.
                      Last edited by CCCSD; 05-30-2019, 10:37 AM.
                      Now go home and get your shine box!

                      Comment


                      • #13


                        I enjoy tending to my flowers and the trees I planted around my property. I find it very rewarding and relaxing to do it, but I’m no green thumb. If I wrote a book about it, it wouldn’t sell. It would be terrible.

                        I just find it interesting that people are writing books about things they don’t know anything about.
                        I make my living on Irish welfare.

                        Comment


                        • #14
                          Originally posted by reils49 View Post

                          I enjoy tending to my flowers and the trees I planted around my property. I find it very rewarding and relaxing to do it, but I’m no green thumb. If I wrote a book about it, it wouldn’t sell. It would be terrible.

                          I just find it interesting that people are writing books about things they don’t know anything about.
                          Interesting statement, that's what I thought when reading revised patrol procedure duty manual sections and administrative staff memorandums.

                          Comment

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