Criminal Law

What Happens When You're Arrested?

The arrest procedure usually begins with a judge issuing an arrest warrant. A police officer "executes" the warrant and arrests the person named in it, and takes him into custody. The police should read the arrestee his Miranda rights at this time. He should be taken to a judge or magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest.

Arrest Warrants

Generally, police need an arrest warrant to make an arrest. The warrant orders police to arrest a certain person and bring him before a judge. The warrant names someone accused of some crime based on certain document types used to accuse people of crimes. Examples include indictments, informations, complaints or petitions related to probation or parole violations. Information from these documents provide probable cause for the arrest.

Warrantless Arrests

Arrests may happen without warrants. For example, if an officer has probable cause to believe a crime happened, and there's no time to get a warrant, he can make an arrest. Also, if police see crime being committed, a warrant isn't needed.

When someone's arrest is warrantless, police may hold him long enough to handle administrative tasks, such as fingerprinting and checking for outstanding warrants. The exact amount of time varies by case, but it's usually not more than 48 hours. Beyond that time, the person must be taken before a judge or magistrate.

Miranda Warnings

Police must read Miranda warnings to the person being arrested before questioning him. This tells the person about the right to have an attorney and remain silent. If the warnings aren't read as soon as he's taken into custody, anything he says may end up being excluded from trial.

Appearance before a Judge or Magistrate

After arrest and reading Miranda rights, the next step is appearing before a judge or magistrate. Usually it's within 24 hours after arrest, or police should let the person go. If the arrest was warrantless, a complaint is prepared and filed. If there was an arrest warrant, the person sees the judge or magistrate who issued the warrant.

Excluded Evidence

When probable cause is lacking for an arrest, it's possible evidence found during arrest won't be allowed at trial.


The police must follow certain guidelines during an investigation after an arrest. They must honor a request for an attorney. If someone tells police he wants to remain silent, they must stop asking questions. Police are allowed to take steps in confirming they've arrested the right person. This can include showing photos to a victim or having the arrested person stand in a lineup.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can a person be arrested by police if they don't have an arrest warrant?
  • What happens if police don't tell someone their rights at arrest and then hold him?
  • Can police show just a photo of an arrestee to a victim or do they need to include photos of other people? Can I see my attorney before I have to stand in a lineup?
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