This webpage is designed for informational purposes only and it is not
to be construed as legal advice. For specific questions please contact
Frequently Asked Questions on Arrests
1. The authority to arrest
All law enforcement officers can arrest you whether they are on or off
duty, in most cases, this includes police officers, sheriff officers,
investigators in a district attorney's office or an attorney general's
office, highway patrol officers and probation or parole officers.
No warrant is neccessary if they have probable cause or good reason to
believe you committed a felony. (A felony is a crime of a more serious
nature than a misdemeanor, usually punishable by imprisonment for more
than a year. A misdemeanor is usually punishable with a fine or short
jail term.) They do not have to see you commit a felony in order to arrest
you. They do, however, have to see you commit a misdemeanor in order to
If you commit an infraction, they may ask you to sign a citation or notice
instead of taking you into custody. This is a minor offense, such as a
moving violation, where the punishment usually is a fine. If you sign
the citation, you are not admitting guilt; you are only promising to appear
in court. If you have no identification or refuse to sign, however, an
officer may take you into custody.
2 . Non-law enforcement officer arrests
Any person, such as a private security guard, can make a citizen's arrest
if he or she sees a misdemeanor being attempted or committed. He or she
also can make a legal arrest for a felony as long as it actually was committed,
and he or she has good reason to believe you did it. He or she must take
you to a police officer or judge who is required by law to take you into
3. Arrest warrants
Usually, a warrant is required before you can be taken into custody from
within your home. But you can be arrested at home without a warrant if
fast action is needed to prevent you from escaping, destroying evidence,
endangering someone's life or seriously damaging property.
An arrest warrant must be signed by a magistrate or judge, who must have
good reason to believe that you committed a crime. Once an arrest warrant
is issued, any law enforcement officer in the state can arrest you —
even if the officer does not have a copy of the warrant. Generally, there
is no time limit on using a warrant to make an arrest.
Before entering your home, a law enforcement officer must knock, identify
him or herself and tell you that you're going to be arrested. If you refuse
to open the door — or if there's another good reason — the
officer can break in through a door or window.
If the police have an arrest warrant, you should be allowed to see it.
If they don't have the warrant with them, you should be allowed to see
it as soon as is practical. The police may search the area within your
reach. If you are arrested outdoors, they may not search your home or
Resisting an arrest or detention is a crime. If you resist arrest, you
can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony in addition to the crime for
which you are being arrested. If you resist, an officer can use force
to overcome your resistance or prevent your escape. The officer can even
use deadly force if it appears you will use force to cause great bodily
4. Not an arrest
If, during the questioning and before a charge is filed, the police are
convinced that you have not committed a crime, they will give you a written
release. Your arrest then will be considered a detention and not be recorded
as an arrest.
The amount of bail — money or other security deposited with the
court to insure that you will appear — is set by a schedule in each
county. For some traffic citations, you may be notified that you can forfeit
or give up bail instead of appearing in court. However, if you have any
doubt, go to court so a new warrant is not issued for your arrest for
failing to appear.
Bail forfeiture does not apply to misdemeanors or felonies, and you must
appear in court. If you fail to appear, your bail will be lost and a new
warrant will be issued for your arrest. For traffic citations, a "bail
forfeiture" works as a conviction for the traffic violation.
Officers at the jail may be able to accept bail. If you cannot post or
put up the bail, you will be kept in custody. Depending on where you are
arrested, you may have the opportunity to request a bail reduction through
a bail commissioner.
When you are taken to court for bail setting or release, the judge will
consider the seriousness of the offense with which you are charged, any
prior failures to appear (even for traffic tickets), any previous criminal
record and your connections to the community, as well as the probability
that you'll appear in court. Generally, the amount of bail is set according
to a written schedule based on your charges.
Instead of paying bail, you might be released on your own recognizance
or "O.R." (or "supervised O.R."). This means that
you do not have to pay bail because the judge believes that you will show
up for your court appearances without bail.
6. Arrest records
Local police departments and the state Department of Justice keep arrest
records. According to law, they cannot show such records to anyone except
law enforcement officers, and may only show records of your convictions
to certain licensing agencies which have a right by state law to investigate
your criminal background.
The arrest record includes when and why you were arrested, whether the
charges against you were dropped or whether you were convicted of the
charges and the subsequent sentence imposed. Both pleading guilty and
being found guilty after a trial count as convictions.
If you are convicted of a crime, are placed on probation and successfully
complete the probation, you may be able to have the conviction set aside
and the case dismissed. This may be helpful for employment background
checks after the probation is completed.
If you are convicted of certain felonies and you successfully complete
probation, you may ask that the felony be reduced to a misdemeanor. Your
attorney will be able to assist you in reducing or possibly expunging