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When is it Illegal to Handcuff?

Using handcuffs

While handcuffs and handcuffing seem like a standard practice in movies and TV shows that involve crime and cops, real-life laws say something different. In this article, we discuss the legality of using handcuffs by police and private citizens. We also look at when not to handcuff a person. Read on! 

Handcuff Laws in the US 

It is legal to handcuff a person in the US if that person has committed a crime. The police or a private citizen can handcuff the suspected criminal (through Citizen’s Arrest) for various reasons. 

To be specific, the police can handcuff you in the following scenarios: 

  • Executing a warrant: the US Supreme Court gives police officers the right to use handcuffs or detain people living in a place under a search warrant.
  • Officer safety purposes: if the police officer feels he or she may be at risk, the officer might determine that handcuffing the person is the best way to ensure the safety of him or her or the people around them. Note that this isn’t based on rigid criteria; it’s often determined by the nature of the situation as perceived by the officer. 
  • Person in custody: a person that has been arrested and taken into custody may be handcuffed. This is true even when appearing in court. 

Simply put, the police aren’t obligated to put suspects into handcuffs unless it’s for the safety of the people around them. Most of the time, the suspect is handcuffed to prevent him or her from committing a further offense or escaping. 

Moreover, there’s no general when it comes to handcuffing a person being transported from a police station to a courthouse. However, a judge presiding over a proceeding can order the police to handcuff a person due to his or her demeanor — this is essential because the judge is in charge of courtroom security. 

Making a Citizen’s Arrest 

If you’re not a police officer, you can still handcuff someone as long as you’ve witnessed the person commit a crime. Security personnel working in places like hospitals and clubs often have to do this for the safety of the people in those places. 

However, note that once you handcuff someone, you’re fully responsible for their safety and welfare until the police arrive. There should also be no civil rights violations, or you can get charged with kidnapping or wrongful arrest. 

Moreover, you’re generally allowed to handcuff and arrest someone for a misdemeanor if you’ve witnessed them. You can’t handcuff them after the fact. This applies to misdemeanors like shoplifting. If it’s a felony, you don’t have to witness the crime; seeing evidence is enough. You can then handcuff the suspect until you can hand him or her off to the police.

Handcuff Laws in the UK

In the UK, there’s no law that prevents people from carrying handcuffs. And similar to US police, law enforcement personnel in the UK are also allowed to handcuff a person if they deem it necessary to ensure their safety and those around them. 

However, handcuffing is often regarded as a last resort for individuals who refuse to cooperate with conflict management tactics of the people around them. Also, know that you might be guilty of a crime for handcuffing a person if you can’t demonstrate fair and reasonable usage in the situation. 

In the Courtroom 

Defendants ought not to be visibly handcuffed in the dock or the witness box. Even if there are risks of escape or violence, alternative methods of avoiding such risks should be considered. These alternatives may include: 

  • Using a secure dock
  • Placing officers between defendants or on either side of a single defendant 
  • Placing officers inside or outside the courtroom
  • Placing armed officers in the court building 

Also, the risk of violence or escape should be determined in advance. Authorities should prepare for it ahead of a court appearance, and appropriate arrangements should be introduced. The arrangements shouldn’t prejudice the prisoner, and the jury must not be influenced by the sight of restraint. 

If unjustified use of handcuffs is proven, it’s considered illegal even if the arrest is lawful. It will also violate the person’s right against degrading treatment and right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence, which are laid out in Artice 3 and 6 of the ECHR. Overall, when using handcuffs in the UK, the right of the suspects need to be balanced against public safety. 

Handcuffs in Australia 

Similar to other countries, Australian law enforcement authorities are allowed to handcuff people to protect safety under reasonable circumstances. However, handcuffs are classified as prohibited weapons — it’s illegal to own them without a permit, and their use is regulated by the Weapons Prohibition Act of 1998 and Weapons Prohibition Regulation 2017.

Three categories of permits exist: 

  • General 
  • Weapons dealer
  • Theatrical weapons armourer 

General permits are often issued by security firms, which use handcuffs for approved activities. These activities may include patrolling, guarding cash or infrastructures, and protecting. Security officers can’t carry handcuffs when conducting crowd control, debt collections, or private investigations, however. Before a permit is issued, the security firm must provide evidence of safety training for handcuffs. 

Meanwhile, the weapons dealer permit lets the holder buy, sell, or make prohibited weapons like handcuffs only in the course of a business at a specific location. Finally, the theatrical weapons armourer permit allows the holder to buy, sell, or make handcuffs when supervising and training people in film, TV, or theater on how to use them. 

Handcuff permits can’t be issued to a person who: 

  • Has been convicted of specific offenses within the past 10 years
  • Is subject to an apprehended violence order within the past 10 years 
  • Is subject to a community correction order, behavior bond, conditional release, or weapons prohibition order 
  • Is a registered person under the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act of 2000
  • Is deemed a risk to public safety

If you get a permit for handcuffs, it can get canceled if you: 

  • Are charged with domestic violence offense
  • Become the subject of apprehended violence order or weapon prohibition order
  • Supply false or misleading information during the permit application 
  • Are no longer considered to be fit to hold a permit 

Unauthorized possession of handcuffs in Australia is punishable by law and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail. 

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