Section 2.3: Arrest

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

The study of procedural law provides us with an understanding of the rules and principles that govern the process of justice. A crucial part of this process is the concept of “arrest.” When an individual is suspected of committing a crime, law enforcement has the authority to detain that individual, a process we commonly refer to as an arrest.

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An arrest is a significant event in the life of an individual. It not only affects the person’s liberty but also has potential consequences for their reputation, employment, and personal life. Because an arrest is such a serious matter, it’s regulated by a complex body of laws and procedures to ensure that individual rights are respected and that the power to arrest is not abused.

One of the core principles of our legal system is that a person cannot be arrested arbitrarily. Specific legal criteria must be met before law enforcement can make an arrest. This principle ensures fairness and prevents misuse of the arrest power. The standards for arrest are part of a balance between individual rights and public safety.

In this Section, we’ll delve into the intricacies of arrest law, examining concepts such as probable cause for arrests, arrest warrants, the significance of the place of arrest, and the permissible use of force during an arrest. Our exploration will provide you with a greater understanding of how these principles function within our justice system. Let’s begin with the foundational concept: probable cause for arrests.

Probable Cause for Arrests

The foundation of any arrest is the concept of “probable cause.” It’s a fundamental principle in our legal system that law enforcement must have reasonable grounds, or “probable cause,” to believe a crime has been committed before making an arrest (Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution). Probable cause is not a precise amount of evidence, rather, it’s based on factual evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a suspect has committed a crime.

Arrest Warrants

Arrest warrants are legal documents issued by a judge or a magistrate. They authorize law enforcement officers to arrest a person suspected of a crime (Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution). Before a warrant is issued, a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor must present evidence to a judge showing probable cause that a specific person has committed a specific crime. Arrest warrants protect individuals from unlawful arrests by requiring a neutral judge’s approval.

Arrest and Place

The place of arrest matters. Law enforcement officers must respect certain rules about where they can arrest a person. For example, without a warrant, an officer generally cannot arrest a person in their own home unless there are exigent circumstances, like an immediate danger to the officer or others or the destruction of evidence (Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 1980). These rules balance the rights of individuals against the need for effective law enforcement.

Arrest and the Use of Force

Police officers have the right to use a reasonable amount of force to make an arrest. However, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the force be “reasonable” in light of the circumstances. Excessive force can lead to a violation of a person’s constitutional rights (Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 1989). The use of force is a complex issue, and factors like the severity of the crime, the threat posed by the suspect, and the resistance of the suspect all come into play when determining what is reasonable.


The concept of arrest in procedural law is built on the bedrock of probable cause. The necessity for arrest warrants and the place of arrest are both governed by this principle. The law attempts to strike a balance between individual rights and the need for effective policing, especially regarding the use of force during arrests. All these aspects are carefully regulated to uphold constitutional rights and ensure justice.

Modification History

File Created:  08/06/2018

Last Modified:  07/14/2023

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