If you've been arrested or charged with a crime, you need to know your rights.

What is an arrest warrant?

An arrest warrant is an official document, signed by a judge, which authorizes a police officer to arrest a person suspected of committing a crime. A judge will issue an arrest warrant if a police officer submits a written affidavit, given under oath, showing probable cause that a specific crime has been committed by the person named in the warrant.

Warrants may restrict the manner in which an arrest may be made. For example, a warrant may state that a suspect can be arrested only between certain hours. Some warrants also specify the bail that a defendant must post to regain freedom following arrest. If the warrant is for a previous failure to appear in court, it will probably specify that the arrested person may not be released on bail.

Can I be arrested without an arrest warrant?

Yes. If a police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, the officer may make an arrest without a warrant. Probable cause means the police have reason to believe that it’s more likely than not that the suspect committed the crime. Because they have a strong case, they don’t need a judge’s permission to make an arrest.

However, there are two exceptions to this rule. First, officers must obtain an arrest warrant to arrest a suspect in their home. Second, most jurisdictions require an officer to obtain a warrant to arrest a suspect for a misdemeanor offense, unless the misdemeanor was committed in the officer's presence. As a witness to the crime, the officer can pursue and arrest the individual.

Can an officer use force to make an arrest?

When making a lawful arrest, an officer may use reasonable force to overcome resistance, for example, if the suspect attempts to run away or resists. The best course of action, even if you think the arrest is wrongful, is to cooperate with the police and let your lawyer sort things out later. Do not try to resist the arrest, run, or get in a physical altercation with the police

An officer may not use excessive force if it is not warranted under the circumstances. If officers use unnecessary force, they can be subject to serious repercussions.Courts decide whether an officer’s use of force was unreasonable on a case-by-case basis, considering the severity of the crime, whether the suspect posed a threat, and whether the suspect was resisting or attempting to flee.

Do the police have to read me my Miranda rights?

The police do not have to read you your Miranda rights unless you are in custody and they are questioning you about the crime. If you are being questioned, it is best to assert your right to remain silent and ask for an attorney. The police should not continue to question you if have asserted your right to remain silent. If an officer continues to ask questions after you have asserted your rights and you provide a statement, your Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated and any statements are inadmissible in court.

Many people think that if they were not read their Miranda rights at the time of arrest, the charges can be dismissed. This is simply not true, and a general misconception from watching too many crime shows.

What happens after I’m arrested?

After you are arrested, you will be handcuffed and taken to the precinct/police station for processing. At the precinct/police station, a police officer or investigator may interview you.

If you are charged with a crime, you will be fingerprinted and photographed- this is called “being booked”. Note that one can be charged with a crime and not arrested. For lower level violations, one might simply be given a ticket (sometimes called a tab charge) at the scene, and then sent on your way, thus bypassing the arrest process. However, when you do eventually go to court, you may be ordered to submit to the booking process on certain qualifying low level crimes, such as a DWI or assault.

Once you have been booked and charged a court date will be set to review whether you are eligible for bail or pretrial release.

How long does processing take?

The precinct/police station processing typically takes four to eight hours, depending on the number of people being processed. During this time, you will normally be held in a cell.

However, sometimes you can be arrested and the charges are pending while the prosecutors review the case. In these situations one can be held in jail for much longer than when charges have already been brought. This period of time varies by jurisdiction, but if the charges are not brought in the necessary period of time, then the jail must release you. If you are released because the charges have not been brought in time, you can still be charged later, so it’s a good idea to talk to a criminal defense lawyer about the next steps.

What will happen to my belongings?

At the precinct, a police officer will search you and take personal property, such as house keys, bags, medication, money, or jewelry, as well as any contraband items you have in your possession. Items are held for safekeeping while you are in custody. You will be given a receipt form listing your property so that you can retrieve it later. If you have any item that the police believe to be contraband, that item will be listed as “arrest evidence,” and will not be available for you to pick up later. Sometimes items that in and of themselves are not illegal will be held as evidence in the case.

What should I do if I know there is a warrant for my arrest?

If you know there is a warrant for your arrest, the best course of action is to contact a criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can help you navigate how and when to turn yourself in, make sure he/she is available to appear in court with you, and often can have an agreement with the prosecutor to set bail without the necessity of going to court. If you are not sure if there is a warrant for your arrest, most counties have a link to check for warrants or your lawyer can contact the authorities to see if there is a warrant for your arrest.

Check out these articles for more detailed information: