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This webpage is designed for informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as legal advice. For specific questions please contact an attorney.


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 arrest you.


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 custody.


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 car.


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 injury.


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.


5. Bail
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 your record.

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