The criminal justice process typically begins when a police officer places a person under arrest. (Also see Chronology: The Arrest Process.) An "arrest" occurs when a person has been taken into police custody and is no longer free to leave or move about. The use of physical restraint or handcuffs is not necessary. An arrest can be complete when a police officer simply tells a crime suspect that he or she is "under arrest", and the suspect submits without the officer's use of any physical force. The key to an arrest is the exercise of police authority over a person, and that person's voluntary or involuntary submission.
A police officer may usually arrest a person in the following circumstances:
The Police Officer Personally Observes a Crime
If a police officer personally sees someone commit a crime, the officer may arrest that individual. For example:
The Police Officer Has "Probable Cause" to Arrest
When a police officer has a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, the officer may arrest that person. This belief, known as "probable cause," may arise from any number of different facts and circumstances. For example:
An Arrest Warrant Has Been Issued
When a police officer has obtained a valid warrant to arrest a person, the arrest is lawful. An arrest warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate, usually after a police officer has submitted a sworn statement that sets out the basis for the arrest. When issued, an arrest warrant typically:
Challenging An Unlawful Arrest
At all stages of the criminal process, including arrest, police officers must protect citizens' constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to be free from unreasonable searches. If these rights are violated, a court may deem the arrest unlawful and order the case against the arrestee dismissed, or certain evidence may be thrown out of the case. Click here to learn more about a defendant's rights when dealing with police.
Questions About Your Arrest? Talk to an Attorney
While a criminal suspect may question the lawfulness of an arrest when it is happening, including the basis for the arrest and the actions of the police officers, that battle is best fought in court rather than on the street. If you want to know if your arrest was lawful or if you have any defenses to the crime in which you are accused, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.