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Do Police Have to Have a Warrant to Make an Arrest?

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When it comes to criminal defense, exploring all the facts and circumstances surrounding an arrest is critical. This is because law enforcement officers are obligated to abide by the law and obey certain rules and procedures so as not to violate an individual’s rights. Should it be discovered they failed in this obligation, it can be a significant factor in one’s defense – a factor that may result in the inadmissibility of key evidence or even a dismissal of charges.

At the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC, our Bergen County criminal defense lawyer is a former prosecutor and Certified Criminal Trial Specialist by the Supreme Court of New Jersey who uses his extensive insight and experience to meticulously review how law enforcement officers conducted stops, searches, and arrests. We know the laws, and we know how to keep officers accountable when they fail to abide by them. This includes ensuring officers make lawful arrests.

When you face an arrest, your Fourth Amendment right reigns supreme. That’s because the Fourth Amendment protects you from unlawful search and seizure (including seizure of your person, or simply an arrest). As such, law enforcement officers must have one of the following to arrest you:

  • Personal observance of a crime;
  • A valid arrest warrant; or
  • Probable cause

While officers have the right to stop you without a warrant when they have reasonable suspicion, such as during a traffic stop, they must have either a warrant or probable cause to make an arrest. Because most arrests arise out of events that have just previously transpired, meaning no arrest warrants were issued as a result of an ongoing investigation or even a failure to appear in court and an officer did not actually witness a crime, many arrests are based on probable case.

To make an arrest based on probable cause, officers must have a justifiable reason for believing you committed a crime. This justification can be bolstered by various sources of evidence that extend beyond mere suspicion, such as visual signs of impairment or alcohol bottles in plain view when you have been stopped for DUI. Another example of probable cause might include an officer who pulls over a speeding car after responding to a jewelry store robbery. If the driver of the vehicle matches the description of the suspect, and there is a bag of merchandise on the passenger seat, the officer has probable cause to make an arrest, even if they did not personally witness the suspect robbing the store.

If law enforcement officers do not have probable cause, they cannot legally arrest you. However, many arrests are made without probable cause, and therefore constitute an unlawful search and seizure. Although being arrested and charged with a crime is never an easy experience, you should remember that you will have the opportunity to present evidence regarding lack of probable cause in your defense – and an experienced attorney can help you do just that.

If you or someone you love has recently been arrested without a warrant, determining whether law enforcement had probable cause to make that arrest is only part of a viable defense strategy. Our legal team looks at all aspects of your case to determine your defense options, and to pursue the best resolution possible. To discuss you case further with a member of our team, contact us for a free consultation.

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