According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, an arrest is the “placing of a person in custody or under restraint, usually for the purpose of compelling obedience to the law.” A warrant is an “authorization in writing empowering the bearer or bearers to perform an act or to execute an office.” So a warrant basically gives the person holding it the right to arrest someone (or to search a certain place, if it’s a search warrant that we are talking about.)
In general, when the police go to someone’s house to arrest them, they carry an arrest warrant with them. But there are also situations in which the police do not need to have an arrest warrant to arrest someone. Basically, there are two situations in which an arrest warrant is not needed.
When the Crime Takes Place in Front of the Police Officer
The first case in which an arrest warrant is not needed is when the police officer actually sees the crime taking place in front of them. For example, if the police officer observes one person assaulting another, then they have the right to arrest the first person. If they see someone knocking a person down with their car and driving away, they may give chase and arrest the driver. They are completely within their rights to arrest someone when that person has committed a crime right in front of them.
When They Have “Probable Cause” to Believe Someone Committed a Crime
Another situation in which the police can arrest someone without a warrant is when they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by that person. Now, what exactly is probable cause and when can a police officer be reasonably said to have it? The term itself comes from the Fourth amendment which says,
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.
If one were to explain it in a layperson’s terms, probable cause generally means an adequate reason. For example, if a crime was committed and several people say that they saw the suspect committing it, then the police officer has a good reason to believe that it was, in fact, the suspect who committed the crime, unless there is strong evidence to indicate the contrary.
In such a case, the police officer can arrest that person but they will have to convince a judge that they had probable cause in order to keep them in custody.
Can the Police Arrest Someone for a Minor Crime?
Keep in mind that a police officer can make a warrantless arrest even for a very small crime. Officers are not expected to know the punishment for every crime, so if necessary they can arrest a person even for a small crime.
Can the Police Make a Warrantless Arrest in Someone’s Home?
If the police want to arrest someone in their home, they generally need a warrant, although there are some exceptions to this rule.
- If the police officer is following a suspect who runs into a home, the police officer can follow them and arrest them instead of having to wait to get a warrant.
- Also, if the police officer hears an altercation going on inside the home and believes that someone is in danger within the home, then they can go in and make an arrest.
- Also, if someone answers the door and lets the police officer in, then they can make an arrest in the home.
Contact us to learn more about the situations in which a person can be arrested without a warrant.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.