Police procedures for a lawful arrest?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I was recently arrested. The officer, however, grabbed me and shoved me to the ground. I did not immediately comply with his orders to get on the ground, but it seemed like he was a bit forceful. I am wondering what steps constitute a legal arrest, how I know I was being arrested if they did not tell me, and whether I have rights that the police officer is supposed to respect?” 

Turn on the news any night of the week and there are stories about how an officer has been killed by a criminal suspect or how a suspect has been killed by a police officer.

Over the years, to eliminate the threat to officers and to suspects, police have established a variety of procedures they are supposed to follow to make a legal arrest. Constitutional rights are also granted individuals to ensure their freedoms are secured.

For example, police officers are not supposed to randomly stop and arrest someone unless certain requirements have been met. Specifically, they have probable cause that the person has committed a crime, the officer saw the person commit a crime, or the officer has an arrest warrant from the court to arrest the individual.

What steps does a police officer have to take to make a lawful arrest?

As with many legal issues, the steps a police officer must take to make a lawful arrest can vary by state and by jurisdiction. For example, the police officer may or may not be legally required to tell you that you are under arrest (although they generally do), they may or may not put you in handcuffs, and they may or may not read you your Miranda Rights (although these must be read when you are in custody and being officially interrogated). 

Now, you asked about the arrest process and how you would know for sure you were under arrest. Unfortunately, there’s no specific definition about what constitutes an arrest. In general, however, an arrest occurs when you are not free to leave and you are considered in “police custody.”

Keep in mind, however, you might be temporarily detained and not free to leave, but this temporary restraint does not rise to the level of an arrest. For example, you may have been stopped and detained for questioning in a traffic stop but this temporary detention does not constitute an arrest.

Another issue which is frequently debated especially in the media, is how much force the police can use to make the arrest. Although the police are not legally allowed to use what is termed “excessive force” often when we see videos of police officers attempting to make an arrest using what some might consider excessive force they are trying to arrest someone who is resisting arrest.

Note, if you resist arrest the police may have to use more force than is required for someone who has voluntarily submitted to the arrest. In general, police officers should only use the minimum amount of force necessary to protect themselves and make the arrest.

How do you know if you are truly under arrest? 

If the police do not tell you that you are under arrest there are still some indications that you might be including the following:

  • You are placed in handcuffs
  • You are placed in a police vehicle
  • You consent to the arrest
  • You are patted down by the officer

Now, you specifically asked whether a police officer can put their hands on you during the arrest. As mentioned above, the amount of force a police officer can use to restrain you varies based on your actions.

At the very least, however, the officer will have to touch you to handcuff you and to search your person for a weapon.

Bottom Line:

Police officers are forced to take aggressive actions every day to restrain and arrested alleged offenders. While some suspects fight officers requiring officers to use additional force, other suspects may have their rights violated during an arrest. Discuss your case with a lawyer if you have been injured during an arrest.

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