"Caught In The Act" Arrest Overview
If a police officer personally witnesses someone committing or attempting to commit a crime, they can arrest them. For instance, if a patrolling officer sees someone snatching a purse, they’re authorized to pursue, detain and take the thief to jail. The same goes for witnessing a driver who runs over a pedestrian and drives off without stopping (known as a "hit and run" offense). Therefore, in these cases, there’s no need for a warrant, mainly if the police officerhas todo the following:
- Identify the individual;
- Stop someone from tampering or destroying evidence;
- Make sure the suspect will appear in court;
- Stop someone from finalizing a crime they’re committing.
The police can make any "in flagrante delicto" ("caught in the act") warrantless arrest even if it’s a minor crime, punishable only by a small fine. The arrest is legal if 2 conditions are met:
- The person to be arrested is doing an obvious act showing he is actually committing, has just committed or is trying to commit criminal activity;
- The overt act is completedwithin the arresting officer’s presence or view.
Which Crimes Qualify for Warrantless Arrests
States are free to impose limits.For instance in Maryland, police officers can make warrantless arrests only for these incidents:
- Theft (under $1,000);
- Causing a false alarm;
- Indecent exposure;
- Prostitution or similar crimes;
- Manslaughter by car or boat;
- Drug crimes, such as distribution and possession;
- Malicious destruction or burning of personal property;
- Criminal activities carried with a concealed weapon;
- Violation of either pre- or post-trial release conditions;
- Offenses that involve firearms, such as transporting or carrying handguns.
If acriminal activity is not listed above, no Maryland police officers are authorized to make an unwarranted arrest.
Every jurisdiction has its rules regarding the aftermath of an arrest. Usually:
- The officers must identify themselves as police officers;
- The suspect must be informed about the reason for their arrest;
- There’s no need for handcuffs unless the law enforcement officer feels the suspect might get violent;
- Depending on the circumstances, the suspect must be informed if they’re under arrest and they’re not free to leave;
- The suspect could be searched, handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle or they could be released;
- Although mandatory before an interrogation, reading the Miranda Rights to the suspect at the time of arrest is not compulsory in all states.
After an arrest, the suspect goes through a process called "booking" during which the police gathers data to create a record of the arrest. The following steps are followed:
- Giving basic personal information to the police, including the full name;
- Taking a mug shot, fingerprints, and receiving the suspect’s personal property for safekeeping during police custody;
- Checking if the arrested person has unpaid parking tickets, outstanding charges or arrest warrants issued by other states;
- A health screening could also be performed.
Anything You Say Can Be Used Against You
Once someone is taken into custody,as a general rule, they must be advised by the police of their Miranda rights (such as the right to speak to a lawyer or the right to remain silent) before questioning. Denying everything won’t work, on the contrary, it might help the prosecution because if they’ll prove it’s true, the accused credibility will suffer and it’ll be much harder to build a strong defense. Furthermore:
- Lying during questioning could lead to a charge of obstruction of justice;
- Silence during police interrogation could be used against them in case of a trial;
- Disclosing others involved in the same crime could lead to a charge of conspiracy.
24 Hours in Police Custody
The police shouldn’t detain someone for up to 24 hours unless they’re charging them. After 24 hours without pressing a charge against the person arrested, the police has to free the suspect with or without bail. The suspect can be held more than one day upon approval by a magistrate’s court or a police officer of a higher rank (superintendent and above). If someone is vulnerable or has a mental illness, they can’t be held at the police station for more than 24 hours either.