Arrest Procedure

A criminal case usually begins with an arrest by a police officer or other law enforcement officer. An officer may arrest an individual if the officer witnesses a criminal act being committed or if there is reasonable cause to believe that the individual being arrested has committed a criminal act. If an individual is being arrested in his home, the police must have an arrest warrant unless exigent circumstances exist which require the officer to act immediately. However, if the officer has reasonable cause to believe that a family offense has occurred, the officer must arrest the alleged offender even if the officer does not have an arrest warrant.

The defendant is always handcuffed and searched, and the officers are entitled to seize any contraband or evidence found during the search. Evidence includes the proceeds of the crime, any tools used to commit the crime, distinctive clothing, or other items that help to connect the defendant with the victim or with the scene of the crime.

The defendant is then transported to the police precinct in which the arrest occurred for fingerprinting and other initial processing. At the precinct, a police officer will interview the defendant and ask for "pedigree" information such as name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, etc. The defendant is typically held at the precinct house for four to six hours. However this time may be longer if there is a complex investigation, interrogation by detectives and the prosecutor, or line-ups being arranged. There may be a pay phone in the holding cell at the precinct which a defendant may use.

For some less serious crimes, the arresting officer has the discretion to give the defendant a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT). A DAT releases a defendant from custody before arraignment and requires the defendant to appear for arraignment on a specified date.

If the defendant is not one of the small fraction who receive a DAT he will next be taken to central booking, which is located at the courthouse where he will be arraigned.

Miranda Rights

The Miranda warnings are given by police to criminal suspects in custody before they are asked questions relating to the commission of a crime. The warnings explain the constitutional rights not to answer questions asked by the police.

In many arrests, the police do not attempt to take a statement from a suspect. In such situations, the police may not read the Miranda warnings, since they are only required to do so when they intend to question a suspect. Nevertheless, anything that the defendant says in the presence of a police officer might be used against him, even if the Miranda warnings have not been given. Police are even allowed to use statements that they overhear the defendant make during a telephone call, or while he is talking to other prisoners. Anyone arrested should therefore be extremely careful about what is said while in custody.

If the police decide to question a defendant, their goal will be to gain an admission that can be used in the case against him. Despite an officer's claims that cooperation could make things go easier with the judge or prosecutor, or that things just need to be cleared up, making any statement to, or in front of an officer can only be detrimental. The person arrested should ask to speak with an attorney as soon as possible and refuse to answer any questions or sign anything.