General Question

akemialmasy's avatar

Can the police come into your house while you're drunk?

Asked by akemialmasy (41points) February 16th, 2011

Okay long story short I got really drunk. I get very depressed for some reason when I am drunk. I was talking to a friend and I guess he thought that I was going to hurt myself (I had no intentions of doing so). So I lay in bed and am trying to sleep it off when I hear banging on my door. I finally get up and see that it is the police. Apparently my friend had called them. They barge into my home and start searching the place and go through my phone and see my texts. They conclude that I am suicidal. I tell them I am just drunk and have not desire to hurt myself. They force me to go to the hospital. So the real question I’m trying to ask is did they have the right to come into my home? I obviously was too out of it to stop them or tell them no. I feel as though my rights have been violated.

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31 Answers

YoBob's avatar

All they need is probable cause and the fact that your friend told them that he believed you were suicidal provided that probable cause.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
iamthemob's avatar

Since we don’t have all of the facts, I’ll just say that generally it’s possible, the police may very well have the right to enter your home.

If this is in the U.S., there is a general exception to Fourth Amendment search protections where the police reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat to a person’s safety or evidence of a crime is being destroyed. Concern about someone committing suicide, particularly when a person who knows the person has reported the possibility, may very well create a reasonable concern.

The thing is, there are a few things that happened here, and each requires a certain level of underlying suspicion or concern for the police:

(1) The police entered your home.

(2) The police detained you in your home.

(3) The police searched your home thoroughly.

(4) The police interrogated you.

(5) The police took you into custody.

A legal problem may very well have arisen when they did a search of your home and interrogated you while you were being detained, leading to your being taken into custody.

Attempting to commit suicide is a crime generally. So detaining you in your home while you are intoxicated and asking questions may be an interrogation and therefore you may have needed to be informed that you had the right to an attorney. If you weren’t mirandized, then it’s possible that your rights were very well violated.

The question is, however, do you want to get involved in all that? Maybe – you might want to talk to a lawyer about this.

@YoBob – Not really. A warrant can be issued upon probable cause, However, entry without a warrant really requires exigent circumstances (like those I mentioned). The information may have provided them with sufficient knowledge that exigent circumstances existed that gave them the right to enter the home without a warrant.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Yes they had a right, and a duty to enter your home once they were informed you were suicidal.

Look at it from the other side. Who would get the shaft if they had not come in and talked to you, and you ended up attempting to harm yourself. The cops were in a no win situation, they took the course of action that left them with the least risk.

LuckyGuy's avatar

From the call they had reason to believe you were in danger.

I worked on an ambulance.. Before we could work on anyone we needed to get their permission. However, we could work on someone unconscious, as that was considered “Implied Consent”.
The police were there to help you based upon the call. They did not know if you took drugs, had a weapon, or were simply drunk.

Learn from this. No more drunk dialing, emailing – or fluthering for that matter!
You have a good friend. Don’t lose him. You’re lucky.

picante's avatar

True story. My husband got really drunk in the wee hours many years ago (I had been asleep for hours), and he was attempting to call someone, though I shudder to imagine whom or what. In his drunken stupor, he dialed “9” as if he were at the office, “I” for long distance, and a slip of the finger punched the final “1,” connecting him to the emergency number. He hung up.

Apparently it was/is protocol to send a patrol car to “hang up” calls to 911 in certain situations—I’m really not sure. This is likely the “imminent threat” to which @iamthemob referred. I do know that a nice policeman awoke me with a flashlight in the face to ask if I was okay. Needless to say, I was “okay” but certainly not amused.

tedd's avatar

Yes they are allowed to be in your home. If police have reason to believe a crime is being committed or someone is being harmed they can enter a private residence. Your friend suggesting that you were suicidal more than likely qualifies. They are allowed to see things that are in plain site upon entering, but not allowed to search without a warrant, so you may be able to do something on that. But honestly they were more than likely just concerned for your welfare and not going to take the chance that they leave you alone and you DO end up killing yourself.

Police can take you into “custody” so long as they have a reasonable cause. Worrying you may commit suicide would qualify. They can’t “arrest” you until you’ve actually committed a crime. Also, they didn’t “interrogate” you. Or at least not to the level of what a court would call interrogation. They’re allowed to ask you all the questions they want. You don’t have to answer them, but they can if they so please.

I wouldn’t pursue the matter any further…. and frankly I’d be happy that they took the time out of their busy work days to come make sure you weren’t swallowing a bottle of pills or something.

(and also, clarify to your friends about how you feel to avoid this problem).

iamthemob's avatar

@tedd – there actually is a question about whether an interrogation occurred. “Custody” means that a person is formally arrested or, even if they are not formally arrested, their freedom of movement is restrained in a way very similar to being under formal arrest. If a police officer orders a person to stand against a wall and not move they are probably “in custody” even if they are not yet arrested. However, if a police officer approaches a person on the street and asks them a question they are probably not “in custody” since they have a greater sense of freedom. Assuming a person is “in custody”, Miranda Rights still apply only when a person is being “interrogated.” “Interrogation” means questioning by a police officer that is likely to cause someone to make an incriminating statement.

Considering that the police barged in (on the facts above), that they were searching his house, and he was being asked questions that would lead him to potentially admit that he was going to try to commit suicide, there is a very real possibility, though not clear, that he was both in custody and under interrogation.

tedd's avatar

@iamthemob Having been in a similar situation, of being in custody, and even under arrest…. I am well aware of what they can ask you and what they can’t. Interrogation would take place at the police station anyways.

zenvelo's avatar

As the OP says, he was hospitalized. In California, that’s a 5150, an involuntary psychiatric hold. You have to be in imminent danger to yourself or others. It can also be used to place an inebriated person in the drunk tank until sober.

Public outrage would be deafening if a suicide had taken place and the police had not done anything after the friend called.

ette_'s avatar

@worriedguy is right—you have a great friend who has concern enough and care enough to do what he did. Even if he was “wrong” and you weren’t really planning on doing anything, he cares enough about you. Even my own family would never do that for me, sadly.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
iamthemob's avatar

@tedd – There are very few strict standards as to what is considered custody and interrogation. There is no universal rule for it because different people can feel different ways in different situations. Personal experience speaks only to whether or not you were interrogated or in custody.

Interrogation has been found to occur in airports, a person’s workplace, and even on a bus in certain situations.

osullivanbr's avatar

I might be missing something here but should you not be glad they responded when they thought you needed help?

iamthemob's avatar

@osullivanbr – I’m sure he would have appreciated it if they had come over, banged on his door, and asked if he was alright and left when he’d given a sufficient explanation.

It’s the barging in, searching, questioning and forcefully removing to the hospital that seems to be the problem.

I will state, however, if they did do all that, @akemialmasy, it may very well be that you seemed a lot more messed up than you think you seemed – particularly considering you were drunk. We’re often not the most objective about how we actually appear…

osullivanbr's avatar

@iamthemob See I don’t read this as quite that bad. I read the post as the police came in after being tipped off that the occupant was suicidal, and wanted to thoroughly ensure that was not the case.

You couldn’t possibly expect them to drop it without asking questions and seeking medical assistance, particularly seeing as the evidence as they would have seen it at the time was that the friend said he was suicidal and they guy was drunk, and quite possibly not too coherent, no offense @akemialmasy. The checking messages thing admittedly seems slightly OTT but I can totally appreciate what they were trying to do there as well.

I do honestly think they did the right thing under the given circumstances.

You have to ask the question as well, what would we all be saying now if he did commit suicide after the police had been there and they left it. We would be slating them for not doing their job, would we not?

iamthemob's avatar

@osullivanbr – I don’t completely disagree with you. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that whether they acted properly or within the bounds of the Constitution is still questionable.

Our rights mean very little if we don’t challenge authorities where they may be over-reaching their authority.

flutherother's avatar

This doesn’t sound right to me. A ‘friend’ calls the police to say you might be suicidal and they then barge into your home. I could understand them calling round to speak with you and to see if you are OK but to barge into your home and check you texts is very wrong. Sometimes I don’t understand America. Are the police afraid they might be sued if you made an attempt on your life? This seems to be a violation of your privacy on very flimsy grounds.

osullivanbr's avatar

@iamthemob i couldn’t agree more. Challenging authorities is without doubt important where necessary and applicable. I don’t however think this is one of those times.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
mrrich724's avatar

All they need is probable cause??? So then what are search warrants for? I’m pretty sure any place that is granted a warrant has probable cause. If that were good enough, why go through the warrant process?

zenvelo's avatar

The OP was not being arrested, so there is not a question of lawful or unlawful search or admissible evidence. It was a health and safety check. And if you are not coherent when they come by, they can take appropriate measures to verify if you are a danger to yourself.

iamthemob's avatar

@zenvelo – There needn’t be an arrest for there to be Fourth Amendment violations.

zenvelo's avatar

@iamthemob True, but in this case they had a valid reason for being there.

john65pennington's avatar

Yes. The police were called there, they did not interfere themselves, with your privacy. The neighbor calling and stating he thought you were suicidal, gives the police the authority to check your mental condition. Its a violation of the law to commit suicide. Although you state you did not make a suicidal statement to your neighbor, your neighbor thought enough about you to make the call.

The officers were not there to do harm to you, it’s their job and the law.

A mans home is his castle. Several Amendments to The Constitution state this.

Its called probable cause and the police had probable cause. Their main interest was your safety.

Pattijo's avatar

There is no telling what all you said to your friend while you were drunk and they were being safe instead of sorry .
Yes I think they had a valid reason for coming in , you may not have been here to ask this question , if they hadn’t .

VS's avatar

Had the police not responded in the manner in which they did and you had actually hurt yourself (intentional or not), the public outcry would have been horrendous that the police did nothing. An old friend once got so drunk that he took a handgun and sat in his backyard at 3 a.m. and shot himself through the head. No one, to this day, believes he “intended” to hurt himself. He was a happy guy with the whole world ahead of him.
Here’s a suggestion: stop drinking so much.

iamthemob's avatar

I think we’re collapsing two separate issues here:

(1) The fact that the police responded is a good thing, and that they showed concern enough to perform more than a cursory interview is also a good thing.

(2) The method of the response as described seems overly violent, forceful, and intrusive based on what we know right now.

While (1) is clearly acceptable and in fact laudable, (2) does bring into question whether there was a Constitutional violation of rights. It could have been warranted as we were not there to observe – but we can’t make an objective determination of that based on what we’re given here.

We do not know how drunk the OP was. Imagine being depressed, getting drunk, talking to a friend and having a passing desire to harm yourself. Then, this happens – and you are unable to convince the authorities that you are fine.

zenvelo's avatar

So we agree on #1? But we disagree on #2, at least I do, because the OP said he was pretty drunk, and that colors his perception of the event. And as to “unable to convince the authorities that you are fine” may mean the OP was not at all fine, and may have been a danger to himself.

iamthemob's avatar

@zenvelo – Absolutely being drunk colors his perception of the event – but that doesn’t mean that by necessity there wasn’t a violation.

We don’t know how much the actions were misperceived, etc. – so we can’t say either way. I offer the alternative description not to say that’s what happened, but only to say that we can’t say either way whether the response was reasonable.

eddierrunner's avatar

@ yoBob You are right.They need a cause to enter in your house.

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