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Arrest Definition

What Is an Arrest?

An arrest occurs when a legal authority takes someone into custody or control. Typically, the people with this legal authority are law enforcement, parole officers, probation officers, and some government officials.

Federal, state, and local authorities may have different administrative procedures after an arrest. What happens after an arrest can also depend on the suspected crime. However, all suspects have certain rights such as the right to hear the Miranda warning.

Law enforcement officers need evidence of criminal activity or a warrant to arrest you, or it will be an unlawful or false arrest.

Key Takeaways

  • Once arrested, you will be processed according to the jurisdiction you are in
  • Anyone can make a citizen’s arrest but they must hand the person over to authorities as soon as possible
  • Resisting arrest is a criminal charge if you decide to fight back or run away from authorities

Understanding Arrest

There are three main circumstances where you can be arrested:

  • An officer saw you commit a crime or breach of the peace
  • There is probable cause that you committed a crime
  • An officer has a warrant for your arrest

Police can’t just arrest people for no reason, though sometimes they get the wrong person and must later release them. Arrests can happen without a warrant (called a “warrantless arrest”) in certain circumstances.

What Is a Citizen’s Arrest?

Anyone can make a citizen’s arrest, but you need to be careful not to make a mistake and arrest the wrong person or for no reason. Doing so can lead to liability, as the person detained can sue you for false imprisonment. To protect yourself, you need to be close enough to see the crime and safely detain the person, then contact the police immediately to hand the person over to police custody. Most often calling the police if you suspect a crime is the safest choice.

You can make a private arrest if a crime happens on your private property by keeping the person there until police arrive. This is more common at businesses and compounds with private security. Security guards are hired staff with no rights to make a legal arrest. Still, they can detain you with a citizen’s arrest if they contact law enforcement immediately.

If the suspect is underage, it may be called a juvenile arrest. Arrests can also be defined by the crime involved. For example, an “indictable arrest” is for serious felonies, but a less serious misdemeanor might be called a “summary arrest.”

Police Officer Procedure for Arresting Someone

The police must have a warrant, see you commit a crime, or have a good reason to suspect you of a crime to make an arrest. After they detain you they will put you in handcuffs and tell you the Miranda warning. Then they will take you to the police station where you will be “processed,” which includes identifying you and looking up any prior legal records.

Typically, you will then wait in jail until your initial court appearance, at which time you may be able to make bail. From there, you can speak to your attorney and will eventually be notified of the criminal charges against you.

An arrest does not necessarily mean you will be taken to jail, however. For some lesser offenses, you will be processed at the police precinct and then given a court date to return.

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment details your rights not to be searched or arrested without reason. It also prevents warrants for your arrest without probable cause. The Supreme Court has made final rulings on unlawful arrests and other arrest litigation when people feel their rights are not being upheld.

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