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Warrantless Arrests: Are They Legal?

From early on in this nation’s history, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that the Fourth Amendment includes protections against arrests without warrants. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. Should you be arrested under one of these exceptions, you will have the right to a hearing in which the police will have to prove probable cause existed to arrest you without getting a warrant first.1 These exceptions are:

  • You Committed a Felony in a Public Place

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable seizures, especially within a private home. However, these protections do not necessarily apply to arrests in public.arrest1-300x201.jpg

If an officer reasonably believes that you have committed, are about to commit, or are in the act of committing a felony in a public place, the officer may arrest you without first seeking a warrant.

  • You Committed a Misdemeanor in the Officer’s Presence

Similar to felonies, an officer may arrest you without a warrant if you commit a misdemeanor in a public place. However, unlike with a felony, the standard is a little tougher. The officer must have observed you with one or more of his or her five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing) in order for the arrest to be upheld as valid.

  • You Violated a Traffic Law

Often, a person who is arrested without a warrant is first noticed by a police officer because he or she violated a traffic law in the officer’s presence. In most cases, a traffic stop only ends up with the driver getting a ticket or a warning, but if the officer sees evidence of a different crime during a traffic stop, he or she can arrest you without a warrant.

For example, if you robbed a bank, and the officer who pulled you over for speeding sees a bag full of cash in the back seat of your car, he does not have to wait for a judge to approve a warrant to place you under arrest.

  • The Police Arrested You with a Defective Arrest Warrant

Just as officers make mistakes, so to do some judges who issue warrants. A valid warrant is one that fulfills several technical requirements. For example, a judge must sign the warrant, and it must describe the criminal offense for which you are being accused. The warrant must also contain your name or a name by which you can be identified with reasonable certainty. The warrant must command that you be arrested and brought before the court without unnecessary delay. If the warrant fails to meet any of these requirements, it could be considered invalid, and technically gives the officers no authority to arrest you.

Warrants2-300x200.jpgNevertheless, the Supreme Court has held numerous times that if the officers are unaware of the problems with the warrant and they act in “good faith” in executing the defective warrant, your arrest may still be valid, so long as the officers made no attempt to trick the judge into issuing the warrant.2

  • The Police Arrested You with “Exigent Circumstances”

In challenges to warrantless arrests, one of the most common claims by law enforcement is that there simply was not enough time to obtain a warrant prior to arresting the suspect. Usually, this type of arrest involves the officers entering your home without a warrant for one of the following reasons:

  • The serious nature of the offense (such as the use of deadly weapons)
  • The chance that evidence will be destroyed
  • Entry into the home was pursuant to a “hot pursuit”
  • Danger to others in the home

In the event that the police claim exigent circumstances, they will have to convince the court that the facts show one or more of the above factors existed to justify the search.

  • A Citizen Arrested You

Ordinary citizens have the power to make arrests without any kind of warrant, but it is a very limited power. In order for a citizen to arrest you, he or she would have to have probable cause to arrest you, which usually requires that he or she saw you or heard you commit the crime.

In effecting the arrest, the citizen can use reasonable force against you, but if the force is deemed excessive, or if the citizen made a mistake and you were innocent, you would have the right to sue that person for damages as a result of injuries to you or your reputation.

Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Right Away

Getting help as soon as possible after you are arrested is critical. If you have been accused of a crime, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled team of attorneys has more than 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing criminal charges. Let our knowledgeable attorneys help you, too.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in criminal defense near you no matter where you work or live.

Contact our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1.Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975). href=”#ref1″>↩
2.See, United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984); Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006); and Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009). href=”#ref2″>↩

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