When law enforcement officers arrest you, they take away your fundamental right to freedom. As a result, they have to follow several procedures before, during, and after the arrest, so your other rights stay protected. An arrest starts when a law enforcement officer takes you into custody and is complete when you (now a suspect) aren’t free to walk away from the arresting officer anymore. 

Most police departments and states add additional procedures designed to safeguard an officer’s physical safety, help the police avoid committing legal mistakes that could damage the prosecutor’s case, or assist the police in documenting the arrest.

Police arrest processes differ from one jurisdiction to the other. Thus, should you have any questions concerning the procedures applied in your region, you should contact your local law enforcement agency. The following is a discussion of the process police have to follow when making an arrest in the Los Angeles area. 

Defining Arrest 

The 4th amendment to the U.S Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. A law enforcement officer arresting you is a form of seizure classified under this constitutional provision. So, what does arrest mean?

The word arrest does not have a defined definition. However, generally, an arrest happens when an individual, usually a police officer, uses legal authority to restrict your freedom of movement by taking you into custody. In case a sensible person in your situation would not feel free to leave an encounter with a law enforcement officer, an arrest or detention has occurred. 

Before an arrest occurs, the police will conduct a pre-arrest investigation. A pre-arrest probe is triggered by an occurrence that becomes the center of a criminal case. For instance, it could commence when a police officer observes an incident like a vehicle weaving in and out of its lane, leading to a violation of traffic rules. Suspecting that you as the driver are intoxicated with alcohol, drugs, or both, the police would observe your behavior and administer field sobriety tests (FSTs) to collect proof of intoxication. He/she could also draw a blood or breath sample and test for BAC (blood alcohol concentration). 

An investigation can also commence when a witness or victim reports a supposed criminal offense. In this case, an officer will interview the victim or witness, gather biological evidence (like bodily fluids, hair, and blood) and physical proof (such as bullet casings, carpet fibers, and fingerprints).

During the pre-arrest investigation phase, the police may obtain a search warrant that will permit them to search your personal property, business, or home for evidence to support their investigation. Note that should you agree that the officers search your property or person, a search warrant isn’t necessary since you’ve granted the police permission to search. But in the absence of your consent, the police must obtain the warrant first before searching your property, business, or home. 

The police document their investigation with videos, written reports, and photographs and hand them over to the prosecution team. 

You want to seek the help of a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as a pre-trial investigation begins. You shouldn’t answer any question the police ask you without your lawyer present. A criminal defense attorney will explain the possible criminal charges you are likely to face and how your jurisdiction treats them. They can also prevent charge filing by straightening out wrong facts, reducing charges, helping with voluntary surrender, or obtaining an informal solution during the pre-arrest phase. 

Exercise Your Right to Stay Silent

As much as you shouldn’t answer any of the officer’s questions, don’t also say anything else to them. The officers aren’t your friends. They will use any info they obtain from you against you. You should be polite to them but at the same time remain firm. Invoke your legal right to remain silent and the legal right to legal counsel. 

An Arrest Differs From Detention

There exists a difference between an arrest and detention or investigatory stop. Detention is informal and brief. For example, being pulled over by traffic police (traffic stop) isn’t usually an arrest but temporary detention. Another prevalent example of detention is when the police see you behaving suspiciously along the street/road and stop to ask questions. In case the police detain you beyond the period required to conduct a short probe, the detention may then turn into being an arrest.

We mentioned that an arrest happens when the police take you into custody.  Generally, custody involves restraining your movement but doesn’t necessarily require being taken to jail or the use of handcuffs (even though both are usually a good indication that a person has been arrested). An arrest could happen much sooner, that is, right after you no longer feel free to walk away. 

When the Police Can Arrest You

There are very few circumstances under which the police can make an arrest. They include if they:

  • Personally observe a criminal offense
  • Have probable cause to believe you committed an offense
  • Have a judge-issued arrest warrant

Probable Cause

Probable cause is the most critical matter in the arrest process. For an officer to arrest you legally, he/she needs probable cause that you committed an offense. Like the word arrest, probable cause doesn’t have a precise definition. Probable cause generally requires quite more than just a hunch or suspicion that you committed an offense but less than evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. The arresting officer must justify the arrest typically by showing tangible proof that led them to probable cause. On the other hand, judges assess all the information and facts surrounding an arrest when establishing whether the police’s belief in a defendant’s guilt was reasonable.

Consider this example. Gracie owns a boutique selling jewelry, stylish clothing, and handbags. She contacts the police claiming a red-haired woman driving a grey car broke into her store. She says the woman made away with one gold watch, three brown handbags, and several necklaces. The police notice a grey car speeding off from the boutique. They pull it over for speeding and see that the motorist is a woman with red hair. The police also see three brown handbags under the car seat and notice the woman is wearing a gold watch and a necklace. Upon noticing all these items, the police have probable cause to place the driver under arrest for breaking into Gracie’s boutique since the items match the description Gracie gave. 

A Judge-Issued Arrest Warrant

An arrest warrant serves to protect individuals from unreasonable arrests per the 4th amendment. Courts usually favor these warrants since they prefer having an unbiased judicial officer evaluate whether the law enforcement officers have probable cause before making an arrest. However, they also recognize that issuing an arrest warrant isn’t always practical. Law enforcement officers can arrest a suspect without having obtained an arrest warrant under given circumstances. 

Judges determine whether there’s probable cause to issue a warrant for arrest on a case-by-case basis. And for officers to arrest someone legally without a warrant, they mustn’t only have probable cause, but they also have to demonstrate that the arrest was immediately necessary. Examples of situations that would justify an immediate arrest are incidents involving domestic violence, DUI cases, or an offense in progress. In these cases, police observation is sufficient to establish probable cause and move to make an arrest.

A civilian can place another citizen under arrest, but these kinds of arrests rarely occur. Generally, the civilian has to witness an offender committing a misdemeanor crime. Or he/she needs to have reasonable cause to believe the wrongdoer committed a felony offense. Civilians must exercise due care before arresting others. An invalid/wrongful arrest may result in a civil suit and criminal charges for false imprisonment and battery.

Your Legal Rights During the Arrest Process

You have various rights during the arrest process. They are:

The Miranda Rights

In 1966, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Miranda v. Arizona case that persons arrested for committing an offense have given rights that have to be clarified to them prior to questioning. These rights are meant to defend or protect your 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. They’re known as Miranda rights and are recited in the form of a warning like this:

‘’You have the right to remain silent and decline to answer any questions. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during interrogation. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand?’’

Note that the police don’t have to read the Miranda rights during the arrest. However, they MUST read them before you are interrogated. Still, most police departments suggest that these rights be read during an arrest. This way, they can begin questioning you immediately and use any info you volunteer to give against you. 

Finally, even though the police will virtually always tell you why you are under arrest, they don’t necessarily have the legal obligation to do that. This is based both on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the jurisdiction. 

Failure for the police to administer the Miranda rights to you properly impacts the admissibility of the statements you’ll make to them after arrest. 

Request to Speak to an Attorney then Remain Silent

Before questioning by the police, you must first request to talk to a lawyer then exercise your legal right to stay silent. All interrogations by the officers should cease after requesting an attorney’s help. If you’re asked anything and answer it after you’ve invoked your legal right to a lawyer, your response can’t be used as proof in your case. Exercising the right to stay silent doesn’t by itself stop the interrogation. 

Always remain silent while in custody. Don’t speak with anybody without your lawyer present, including a police officer, holding or jail cell roommates, and keep off telephones. Phone calls are usually recorded and will be played back. So, remain silent. 

Officers’ Actions During Arrest/Booking

If a police officer stops you, he/she might frisk you. They will do this by patting down your clothes to see if you are concealing any weapon. Later, should you end up under arrest, they can conduct a full search of your immediate surroundings and person to ensure you do not have any stolen items, weapons, contraband, or proof of an offense. If they seized your car, they might also search it. 

The police officers can confiscate any money or property you have after doing an inventory and secure it. They will also request that you sign that inventory. Note that you should sign the inventory only if you’ve agreed with its contents. 

After being arrested, you will be booked. The booking process entails the officer requesting you to provide basic info about yourself (for instance, your birth date and address) and photograph and fingerprint you. They might also require you to give a sample of your handwriting or take part in a police line-up for victim/eyewitness identification. 

Suppose you are detained but don't go through the booking process within a given period (usually overnight or several hours). In that case, your lawyer might obtain a writ of habeas corpus from the judge. This is a court-issued order instructing the law enforcement officers to take you to court to establish if they are holding you legally. 

Police Arrest Process and Use of Excessive Force

Law enforcement officers are not allowed to oppress arrestees or use excessive force when making an arrest. This is universal and protected by the United States Constitution. They’re generally only permitted to apply reasonable force to protect themselves and bring the suspect into custody. 

The issue of whether or not the force applied in a given situation was excessive or reasonable is fact-specific. Generally, courts balance the requirement to use force and the amount of force applied to make an arrest. The factors they consider include:

  • How severe the crime is
  • Whether you were trying to flee or resist
  • Whether you posed any threat

Officers are permitted to use excessive force on an actively resisting or fleeing suspect if they have probable cause to believe he/she poses a threat to them. However, if possible, they have to caution the suspect that they’re about to apply deadly force. 

That’s why individuals are advised never to argue with the police or resist arrest, even when they know or believe they’re being arrested wrongfully. Apart from triggering the application of excessive force, resisting an arrest could result in injuries and additional criminal charges. If you think your arrest is incorrect or unjustified, you can always contest it later on with help from a lawyer and, if necessary, file a civil rights case. 

What Next After Arrest and Booking?

After your arrest and booking, your case will be brought to the prosecution’s office, and the prosecutor will decide what charges to file if any. You’re entitled to a speedy trial. This usually means the prosecution must bring any charges against you within forty-eight hours (or seventy-two hours in other states). The prosecutor isn’t bound by the first charge decision they make. They can later alter the crime charged after more proof is acquired. 

Next, you will be arraigned in court. At this stage, your charges are read before the judge, and you will be asked how you plead (is it not guilty or guilty)? You could also enter a no contest (nolo contendere) plea, which isn’t technically a plea but indicates that you do not challenge the charges against you. The no-contest plea can’t apply in other criminal trial aspects as a confession of being guilty, but it can apply in the arraignment stage. Here it will be used as an implicit admission to committing the specific crime charged and a confession to the case’s facts. A judge only accepts a no-contest plea if it’s made intelligently and voluntarily. 

You might be released from jail after being arrested and before your trial by making bail. Here, you deposit cash with the court to guarantee that you will make court appearances whenever asked to do so. If you make all the court appearances, you will be refunded your money. But if you don’t, the court will keep it and issue an arrest warrant. 

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

No one anticipates being arrested. But should it happen, it is good to understand the process. You also should understand you have legal rights all through the arrest procedure. If you have been placed under arrest and criminal charges leveled against you, you want to reach out to an experienced criminal lawyer to discuss the legal options you have going forward and your legal rights.

At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we have been helping clients in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas arrested for different crimes through this complex situation. We understand the California arrest process, and we will fight to ensure your case doesn’t go past this stage. And even if it does, we will apply our understanding of the state’s criminal process to challenge the charges against you and obtain the best possible outcome. Contact us at 310-935-1675 and leave the rest to us.