An Explanation of Arrests, Arrest Warrants and Search Warrants


An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty, usually in relation to the investigation and prevention of crime.

What happens when someone is arrested?

Once the decision has been made that an arrest is warrant, the police typically restrain the individual and then place handcuffs on them. The handcuffs are usually placed with the hands behind the body to make it more difficult for the individual to use their hands toward physical violence or escape. Handcuffing is done even if the individual is not being violent at the time. The individual is then asked to stand or sit in a particular area or they are placed in the back of the police vehicle. In situations where only one or two people are being detained, a typical police squad car is used. If more than two people are being detained, the law enforcement officers will either use multiple squad cars or bring in a paddy wagon, which is a police van. After being loaded into the car or the van, they are driven to the police station, or local jail, processed, booked and either released or incarcerated. If the individual is released, the the police may issue a “notice to appear”, specifying where and when a suspect is to appear for their arraignment. If the crime warrants, the individual usually remains incarcerated for a period of time pending a judicial bail determination or an arraignment.

Arrest Warrants and Search Warrants Issuance and Procedures

Most often, the term warrant refers to a specific type of authorization. Warrant usually refers to a writ issued by a competent legal officer, usually a judge or magistrate, which commands an otherwise illegal act that would violate individual rights and affords the person executing the writ protection from damages if the act is performed.

What is an arrest warrant?

An arrest warrant is a warrant issued by and on behalf of the state, which authorizes the detention of an individual. Police officers obtain a warrant before going to pick up an individual. Sometimes, a warrant is issued in response to an individual’s failure to do something. For example, one is issued when an individual fails to appear in court when they have an assigned court date, law enforcement is notified of the issuance.

What is a search warrant?

A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search on a person or location for evidence of a criminal offense and then to seize such items. All jurisdictions with a rule of law and a right to privacy put constraints on the powers of police investigators, and typically require search warrants for searches within a criminal inquiry.

There typically also exist exemptions for “hot pursuit”, if a criminal flees the scene of a crime and the police officer follows him, the officer has the right to enter a home or building in which the criminal has sought shelter.

How are warrants issued?

Warrants are typically issued by courts and are directed to the sheriff, constable or a police officer. A typical arrest warrant in the United States will take the approximate form of:

“This Court orders the Sheriff or Constable to find the named person, wherever he may be found, and deliver said person to the custody of the Court.”

Citizen’s Arrest: How Private Citizens can Apprehend Criminals

A citizen’s arrest is a physical detention made by a regular person who is not a sworn law enforcement official, nor are they acting as one.  The practice of making a citizen’s arrest dates back to medieval England and English common law, when sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend criminals in an effort to help control crime.

Tthe arresting person (the person who is conducting the citizen’s arrest) is usually considered to be any person with arrest powers, who need not be a citizen of the jurisdiction in which they are acting. This is an an uncommon practice in current times. However, with the heightened threat of terrorism, many citizens are more watchful and willing to take action to prevent a terrorist act, especially on commercial airline flights. In these situations, many people are willing to take the necessary action to prevent the crime from occurring, rather than attempting to make a formal detention.

The person who is suspected of committing a crime is detained in some way and held until law enforcement officials or police officers arrive on the scene.

Barney Fife helped to make the term famous on an episode of Andy Griffith when the actor yelled, “Citizen’s Arrest!  Citizen’s Arrest!”. It is highly unlikely that you will hear someone use the phrase today, other than in jest.

Why are they important to Private Investigators

Private investigators are not involved in issuing or serving these types of legal documents. However, they may be hired to investigate whether proper procedures and techniques were followed in serving the papers to the appropriate parties. In this situation, detectives are hired either by an attorney or by a private party.

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.


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