Do the police need a warrant to arrest me?
UPDATED: February 10, 2020
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Law enforcement officers may or may not need a warrant to arrest an individual. State laws vary considerably on this issue. Federal laws have their own exceptions to the warrant requirement. You should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine whether your arrest was legal and if you believe that you were improperly placed under arrest without a warrant.
The reason that state statutes vary so much is that states want a high degree of safety for their citizens. States use statutes to create exceptions to the broadly written arrest warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The answer to the question: “Do they need a warrant to arrest me?” can be answered with another question. Do the activities in which you are engaged present an immediate, extreme danger to you, law enforcement officers, or the public at large? If the answer is yes, there is likely to be an exception to the warrant requirement.
Typically, an individual cannot be arrested without a warrant for a misdemeanor that no one has observed. Yet some states have exceptions to this rule. For example, it is possible in some states to be arrested for certain offenses, such as acts of domestic violence and criminal mischief (also known as property damage) if no one has seen them happen, and the police do not have a warrant. Usually, if law enforcement officers have probable cause, they can arrest someone without a warrant for a felony.
What is a felony and what is a misdemeanor? States and the federal government classify the same offenses differently. An offense that is a felony in one state is a misdemeanor in another. The answer also depends on you – or more specifically, your criminal history. If you have committed certain offenses more than once, a state can choose to classify the “second time around,” and the third time around, and beyond, as felonies. Many states classify the first act of shoplifting as a misdemeanor. Repeat acts of shoplifting, even if they are for items that are of little value, can be felonies.
There are also exceptions for the warrant requirement that touch on your behavior. There is typically an exception to the warrant requirement if you are observed to be destroying evidence of a crime, or are in a situation in which you could easily destroy evidence of a crime. There is usually an exception to the warrant requirement if law enforcement officers are in “hot pursuit” of you. “Hot pursuit” means that law enforcement officers are chasing you based on a reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime.
In order to communicate with a criminal lawyer effectively, first talk to your lawyer about the arrest. Then, write down everything that happened from your point of view. This will help you remember details you may have overlooked. Your criminal attorney will be able to combine your statement with your notes to create an organized defense.