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A seizure or forcible restraint; an exercise of the power to deprive a person of his or her liberty; the taking or keeping of a person in custody by legal authority, especially, in response to a criminal charge.

The purpose of an arrest is to bring the arrestee before a court or otherwise secure the administration of the law. An arrest serves the function of notifying the community that an individual has been accused of a crime and also may admonish and deter the arrested individual from committing other crimes. Arrests can be made on both criminal charges and civil charges, although civil arrest is a drastic measure that is not looked upon with favor by the courts. The federal Constitution imposes limits on both civil and criminal arrests.

An arrest may occur (1) by the touching or putting hands on the arrestee; (2) by any act that indicates an intention to take the arrestee into custody and that subjects the arrestee to the actual control and will of the person making the arrest; or (3) by the consent of the person to be arrested. There is no arrest where there is no restraint, and the restraint must be under real or pretended legal authority. However, the detention of a person need not be accompanied by formal words of arrest or a station house booking to constitute an arrest.

The test used to determine whether an arrest took place in a particular case is objective, and it turns on whether a reasonable person under these circumstances would believe he or she was restrained or free to go. A reasonable person is one who is not guilty of criminal conduct, overly apprehensive, or insensitive to the seriousness of the circumstances. Reasonableness is not determined in light of a defendant's subjective knowledge or fears. The subjective intent of the police is also normally irrelevant to a court's determination whether an arrest occurred, unless the officer makes that intent known. Thus, a defendant's presence at a police station by consent does not become an arrest solely by virtue of an officer's subjective view that the defendant is not free to leave, absent an act indicating an intention to take the defendant into custody.

An arrest constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and thus the procedures by which a person is arrested must comply with the protections guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment or the arrest will be invalidated and any evidence seized during the arrest or confessions made after the arrest will typically be suppressed. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that arrests made without a valid arrest warrant based on Probable Cause are presumptively invalid under the Fourth Amendment. Similarly, arrests made pursuant to a warrant that is later ruled defective may also be declared invalid, unless the officer in procuring the warrant and making the arrest acted in Good Faith.

However, warrantless arrests do pass constitutional muster under some circumstances. The Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless arrests can be made when the circumstances make it reasonable to do so. For example, no warrant is required for a felony arrest in a public place, even if the arresting officer had ample time to procure a warrant, so long as the officer possessed probable cause that the suspect committed the crime. Felony arrests in places not open to the public generally do require a warrant, unless the officer is in Hot Pursuit of a fleeing felon. Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 87 S.Ct. 1642, 18 L.Ed.2d 782 (1967). The Fourth Amendment also allows warrantless arrests for misdemeanors committed in an officer's presence.

The exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement are based on the court's reluctance to unduly impede the job of law enforcement officials. Courts attempt to strike a balance between the practical realities of daily police work and the privacy and freedom interests of the public. Always requiring police officers to take the time to obtain an arrest warrant could result in the destruction of evidence, the disappearance of suspects, or both.

When an officer does seek an arrest warrant, the officer must present evidence to a neutral judge or magistrate sufficient to establish probable cause that a crime has been committed. The Supreme Court has said that probable cause exists when the facts within an officer's knowledge provide a reasonably trustworthy basis for a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been committed or is about to be committed. Courts will deny requests when the warrant fails to describe in particularized detail the person to be arrested. The evidence upon which a warrant is based need not be ultimately admissible at trial, but it cannot be based on knowingly or intentionally false statements, or statements made in reckless disregard of the truth. However, inaccuracies found in a warrant due to ordinary Negligence will not typically jeopardize a warrant's validity.

Police officers need no justification to stop someone on a public street and ask questions, and individuals are completely entitled to refuse to answer any such questions and go about their business. However, the Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from detaining pedestrians and conducting any kind of search of their clothing without first possessing a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the pedestrians are engaged in criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 21 L. Ed. 889 (1968). Police may not even compel a pedestrian to produce identification without first meeting this standard. Similarly, police may not stop motorists without first having a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver has violated a traffic law. If a police officer has satisfied this standard in stopping a motorist, the officer may conduct a search of the vehicle's interior, including the glove compartment, but not the trunk, unless the officer has probable cause to believe that it contains contraband or the instruments for criminal activity.

Investigatory stops or detentions must be limited and temporary, lasting no longer than necessary to carry out the purpose of the stop or detention. An investigatory stop that lasts too long turns into a de facto arrest that must comply with the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment. But no bright line exists for determining when an investigatory stop becomes a de facto arrest, as courts are reluctant to hamstring the flexibility and discretion of police officers by placing artificial time limitations on the fluid and dynamic nature of their investigations. Rather, the test is whether the detention is temporary and whether the police acted with reasonable dispatch to quickly confirm or dispel the suspicions that initially induced the investigative detention.

Not all arrests are made by members of law enforcement. Many jurisdictions permit private citizens to make arrests. Popularly known as citizen's arrests, the circumstances under which private citizens may place each other under arrest are normally very limited. All jurisdictions that authorize citizen's arrests prohibit citizens from making arrests for unlawful acts committed outside their presence. Most jurisdictions that authorize citizen's arrests also allow citizens to make arrests only for serious crimes, such as felonies and gross misdemeanors, and then only when the arresting citizen has probable cause to believe the arrestee committed the serious crime. Witnessing the crime in person will normally establish probable cause for making an arrest.

Both private citizens and law enforcement officers may be held liable for the tort of false arrest in civil court. An action for false arrest requires proof that the process used for the arrest was void on its face. In other words, one who confines another, while purporting to act by authority of law which does not in fact exist, makes a false arrest and may be required to pay money damages to the victim. To make out a claim for false arrest, the plaintiff must show that the charges on which he or she was arrested ultimately lacked justification. That is, the plaintiff in a false arrest action must show that the arrest was made without probable cause and for an improper purpose.


Accusation; Charge; Civil Procedure; Contraband; Criminal Action; Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; De Facto; Evidence; Felony; Fourth Amendment; Hot Pursuit; Liability; Probable Cause; Seizure; Tort Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


v. 1) to take or hold a suspected criminal with legal authority, as by a law enforcement officer. An arrest may be made legally based on a warrant issued by a court after receiving a sworn statement of probable cause to believe there has been a crime committed by this person, for an apparent crime committed in the presence of the arresting officer, or upon probable cause to believe a crime has been committed by that person. Once the arrest has been made, the officer must give the arrestee his/her rights ("Miranda rights") at the first practical moment, and either cite the person to appear in court or bring him/her in to jail. A person arrested must be brought before a judge for arraignment in a short time (e.g. within two business days), and have his/her bail set. A private "security guard" can not actually arrest someone except by citizen's arrest, but can hold someone briefly until a law officer is summoned. A "citizen's arrest" can be made by any person when a crime has been committed in his/her presence. However, such self-help arrests can lead to lawsuits for "false arrest" if proved to be mistaken, unjustified or involving unnecessary holding. 2) to delay the enforcement of a judgment by a judge while errors in the record are corrected. (See: warrant of arrest, false arrest, probable cause, Miranda warning)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


1 the seizure or touching ofa person's body with a view to his detention. In many jurisdictions the fact of arrest triggers various legal protections of the person arrested, such as a right to remain silent and a right to legal advice.
2 in Scotland a form of preliminary attachment of moveables or an account. See ARRESTMENT.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

ARREST. To stop; to seize; to deprive one of his liberty by virtue of legal authority.

ARREST, in criminal cases. The apprehending or detaining of the person, in order to be forthcoming to answer an alleged or suspected crime. The word arrest is more properly used in civil cases, and apprehension in criminal. A man is arrested under a capias ad respondendum, apprehended under a warrant charging him with a larceny.
     2. It will be convenient to consider, 1, who may be arrested; 2, for what crimes; 3, at what time; 4, in what places; 5, by whom and by what authority.
     3.-1. Who may be arrested. Generally all persons properly accused of a crime or misdemeanor, may be arrested; by the laws of the United States, ambassadors (q.v.) and other public ministers are exempt from arrest.
     4.-2. For what offences an arrest may be made. It may be made for treason, felony, breach of the peace, or other misdemeanor.
     5.-3. At what time. An arrest may be made in the night as well as in the day time and for treasons, felonies, and breaches of the peace, on Sunday as well as on other days. It may be made before as well as after indictment found. Wallace's R. 23.
     6.-4. At what places. No place affords protection to offenders against the criminal law; a man may therefore be arrested in his own house, (q.v.) which may be broken into for the purpose of making the arrest.
     7.-5. Who may arrest and by what authority. An offender may be arrested either without a warrant or with a warrant. First, an arrest may be made without a warrant by a private individual or by a peace officer. Private individuals are enjoined by law to arrest an offender when present at the time a felony is committed, or a dangerous wound given. 11 Johns. R. 486 and vide Hawk. B. 1, c, 12, s. 1; c. 13, F3. 7, 8; 4 Bl. Com. 292; 1 Hale, 587; Com. Dig. Imprisonment, H 4; Bac. Ab. Trespass, D.
     3. Peace officers may, a fortiori, make an arrest for a crime or misdemeanor committed in their view, without any warrant. 8 Serg. & R. 47. An arrest may therefore be made by a constable, (q.v.) a justice of the peace, (q.v.) sheriff, (q.v.) or coroner. (q.v.) Secondly, an arrest may be made by virtue of a warrant, (q.v.) which is the proper course when the circumstances of the case will permit it. Vide, generally, 1 Chit. Cr. Law, 11 to 71; Russ. on Cr. Index, h.t.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.