Police officers have the difficult responsibilities of keeping people safe and maintaining order. This unfortunately means that they commonly have to arrest citizens who break the law. Officers cannot simply arrest people because they feel like it though. They must follow specific rules and procedure to make a legal arrest.
What this procedure entails may slightly vary from state-to-state, but the underlying purpose is the same across the nation. Protecting the rights of civilians is the primary focus, but some elements of a procedure aim to keep the arresting officer safe, document the event and help avoid a legal mistake that could negatively affect an impending prosecution.
Understanding your rights when approached by an officer can help you hold the police accountable and properly navigate a potentially unfortunate situation.
Making a legal arrest
The approach an officer takes when he or she is suspicious that a crime has been committed is very calculated. This is because it needs to be. As previously stated, officers cannot make an arrest because they are having a bad day. There are actually few circumstances in which an officer can make a legal arrest. The following list outlines the three instances when an officer has the power to arrest a civilian:
- Officer witnesses illegal activity
- Officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed
- Officer has an arrest warrant that was issued by a judge
There is a common theme in each of these circumstances. The officer must have tangible evidence to believe the person of interest has committed a crime. Therefore, an unsubstantiated feeling that you broke the law will not be enough for the police to arrest you.
The way a police officer makes an arrest may slightly vary by jurisdiction. There is not a universal approach to arresting a suspect, but the procedure is generally pretty similar. If the officer sees a crime in action, he or she will have authorization to immediately make an arrest.
This commonly includes using handcuffs to detain the suspect and not allow him or her the freedom to leave the area. Using handcuffs or placing the person in a police car are ways to protect the officer and not always necessary in arrest procedure.
If the officer does not witness an incident but is still suspicious, he or she may seek probable cause by asking questions. The police do not need to read you your Miranda Rights at the time of arrest, but they must do so before an interrogation. As a result, officers typically deliver this information early in the procedure, so they can ask questions that may lead to a conviction in the future.
Once the officer decides to move forward with an arrest, he or she will most likely explain why to the suspect. The officer may not have a legal obligation to do so depending on jurisdiction, but it is typically proper protocol to briefly explain the reasoning behind an arrest.
You hopefully will never find yourself in need of applying this information, but it certainly can’t hurt to understand the rules police must follow.