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Can Police Arrest Me Without a Warrant?

In last week's blog, we discussed what it means to have a warrant issued in your name. To recap, a magistrate may approve a request for an arrest warrant when they are convinced that a law enforcement officer has demonstrated that probable cause existed to believe that you committed or attempted to commit a crime. Law enforcement officials can then take you into custody at any time.

But police officers do not always need a warrant to arrest you. In some situations, they can make a warrantless arrest; however, certain conditions must be met before they can do so. There can be significant implications to your criminal case if police arrest you without a warrant and without having lawful grounds for doing so.

When Can Police Make a Warrantless Arrest?

Generally, police officers can make a warrantless arrest when there is probable cause to believe that you have committed an offense or when you commit a crime in the presence of an officer.

That said, Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-7-103) provides specific circumstances in which a police officer may have grounds for a warrantless arrest:

  • The offense was committed in the officer's presence
  • The offense was a felony, but not committed in the officer's presence
  • The offense was a felony and the officer had reasonable cause to believe that the person being arrested committed the crime
  • The individual being arrested was attempting suicide
  • The individual was in a traffic accident resulting in bodily injury or death and the officer had reasonable cause to believe the driver committed a motor vehicle crime
    • However, if personal injury or death did not result from the accident, the officer can make an arrest if they had reasonable cause to believe that the driver committed a DUI
  • The individual committed domestic abuse
  • The officer had reasonable cause to believe that the person committed stalking
  • The officer had reasonable cause to believe that the person violated one or more conditions of bail

The requirement for law enforcement officials to establish probable cause before making an arrest is a protection under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It provides that all people should be safe in their person or their home.

Conducting a warrantless arrest without probable cause is a violation of a person's rights. If you were subject to such unlawful conduct, you (or a criminal defense attorney working on your behalf) could raise that as grounds for suppressing evidence. Essentially, if your Constitutional rights were violated at any time during your case, the court can deem any evidence obtained inadmissible because it was unlawfully acquired. When evidence is inadmissible, the prosecutor cannot use it, which may weaken their arguments. Depending on the situation, the criminal charge may be reduced or the case dismissed.

Will Police Officers Always Make an Arrest?

If an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed a crime or witnessed a person committing a crime, they do not necessarily have to make a warrantless arrest. Depending on the circumstances, the officer can issue a citation in lieu of an arrest. Typically, this occurs when you are accused of committing a minor misdemeanor. However, giving a citation instead of an arrest does not apply if you are suspected of driving under the influence.

When the officer issues a citation in lieu of an arrest, they will present you with a written ticket. The ticket contains your personal information, the alleged offense, and the date and time you are required to appear in court.

Now, although an officer can issue a citation for some misdemeanors, in certain situations, they may make an arrest.

This can happen when:

  • The officer believes that the person is unlikely to show up in court when required
  • Prosecution for the offense may be jeopardized if the person is released from police custody
  • The arrested person requires medical attention
  • The offense will continue if the person is released
  • The person refuses to or is unable to provide their identification information
  • The person requests to be taken before a magistrate
  • The person refuses to sign a citation
  • The person is intoxicated and poses a danger to themselves or others
  • The person has one or more arrest warrants in their name

If you are issued a citation in lieu of an arrest, you are required to sign the ticket confirming your receipt of it. Failing to appear after being cited can lead to an arrest warrant being issued in your name and a Class A misdemeanor charge.

At Eldridge and Cravens, PC, we review every detail of a criminal case, including the arrest process. Our thorough examination allows us to identify any unlawful conduct and file appropriate motions to protect our clients' rights and futures.

To schedule a free consultation with a member of our Knoxville team, call us at (865) 544-2010 or contact us online today.