Chronology: The Arrest Process
When someone is arrested, a specific series of events follows. The police must follow certain legal procedures during and after the actual arrest process in order to comply with your legal and constitutional rights. An arrest occurs when police take you into custody and is complete the moment you, as the suspect, are no longer free to walk away from the arresting officer.
Learning of Your Rights During an Arrest
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, that individuals who are under arrest for suspicion of having committed a crime have certain rights that must be explained to them before any questioning may occur. The rights are designed to protect your Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination and are read in a warning as follows:
- You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions.
- Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
- If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
Note: Miranda rights must only be read when an individual is in police custody and under interrogation which would not apply to situations like traffic stops.
Police Actions During an Arrest and Booking
If you're stopped by the police, they may frisk you by performing a "pat-down" of your outer clothing to see whether you're concealing a weapon. Later, if you're arrested, they can perform a full-blown search of your person and immediate surroundings to ensure that you don't have any weapons, stolen items, contraband, or evidence of a crime. If the police take possession of your car, it may be searched as well.
The police may take and secure any personal property or money that you have with you after performing an inventory. The police will ask you to sign the inventory, but you should only do so if you agree with the contents of the inventory.
Once arrested, you'll be booked. During this part of the arrest process, the police will ask for basic information about yourself (such as your address and birthdate), and fingerprint and photograph you. You may also be asked to participate in a line-up, or provide a handwriting sample.
If you're detained but not booked within a reasonable period of time (usually several hours, or overnight) your attorney may go to a judge and obtain a writ of habeas corpus. This is an order issued by the court instructing the police to bring you before the court to determine if you're being lawfully held.
The Post-Booking Process
Once you're arrested and booked, your case is provided to the appropriate prosecutor's office where an independent decision is made as to what charges should be filed, if any. You have the right to a speedy trial, which usually means that the prosecutor must file any charges within 72 hours (48 hours in some states). A prosecutor is not bound by the initial charge decision and can later change the crimes charged once more evidence is obtained.
Next is your arraignment. At this point, the charges against you are read in court and you'll be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty. You can also plead "nolo contendere" or "no contest," which aren't technically pleas, but indicate that you don't contest the charges. The plea of nolo contendere cannot be used in other aspects of the criminal trial as an admission of guilt, but can be used in the indictment phase as an implied confession of the specific offense charged and an admission of the facts in the indictment. A plea of nolo contendere is only accepted by a judge if made voluntarily and intelligently.
You may be able to get out of jail after your arrest and before trial by posting bail. During this process, you pay money to the court to ensure that you'll make future court appearances. If you do, the bail is refunded to you, but if not, the court keeps the money and can issue a warrant for your arrest.
Getting Legal Help with Questions About the Arrest Process
No one looks forward to an arrest, but if does happen, it's good to have an understanding of the process. It's also important to understand that you have rights throughout the arrest process. If you've been arrested and charged with a crime, you may want to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights and what your legal options are going forward.