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The Arrest Stage of a Criminal Case

First Step Into the Criminal Justice System


Man in Handcuffs

Criminal cases begin with an arrest.

A criminal arrest takes place when you have been taken into police custody and are no longer free to leave. Being arrested is the first step in your journey through the criminal justice system.

An arrest can take place simply when a police officer tells you that you are under arrest. You do not have to be handcuffed or otherwise physically restrained in order for you to legally be under arrest.

Whether you are handcuffed or not, you are legally under arrest at the moment that you are no longer free to walk away.

Reasons You Can Be Arrested

Generally, there are three legal circumstances under which a police officer can place you under arrest:

First, when a police officer actually sees you committing a crime. For example, if a policeman sees you drive away from a gas station without paying, he can place you under arrest.

Probable Cause for an Arrest

Secondly, a police officer can arrest you if he has probably cause that you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime. To have probable cause, the police officer must have specific facts or circumstances that lead him to believe you have committed a crime. You cannot be arrested based on a hunch or because you "look suspicious."

For example, if a police officer receives a report that a convenience store has been robbed and then sees you running away from the store with a gun in your hand, he has probably cause to suspect that you robbed the store and he can arrest you.

Obtaining an Arrest Warrant

Thirdly, you can be arrested if a judge or magistrate issues an arrest warrant. Usually, an arrest warrant is issued after a police officer provides the judge probably cause for your arrest, based on his own observations or information obtained from a confidential informant.

If an informant tells a police officer that he went to your house and purchased drugs from you, the policeman can go to a judge and request an arrest warrant by describing the crimes being committed, the person suspected of the crimes and the location of the suspect.

Search Warrants Can Prompt Arrest

Arrest warrants can also be issued if you fail to show up for a court date, miss appointments with your probation or parole officer, fail to pay a fine or restitution or otherwise violate your probation or parole.

Search warrants are issued by judges in the same manner as arrest warrants, based on probable cause provided by law enforcement officers. If a search warrant is served on your home or place of business and contraband is found, you can then be placed under arrest because the police have personally witnessed you being in possession of the contraband.

Return to: Stages of a Criminal Case

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