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.
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.
Nevertheless, 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