Arrest and Search Warrants: What Do Detectives Need to Know?


An Overview of Arrest Warrants and Search Warrants

This article provides information on arrests, arrest warrants, and search warrants.

An arrest is defined as depriving a person of his or her liberty, usually concerning investigating and preventing crime. Once the decision has been made that an arrest is warranted, a police officer will explain to the individual that they are being arrested. At this time, they will begin reading their rights according to the Miranda procedures.

The Arrest Process

The police officer will handcuff the person and physically restrain them if necessary. 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 placed in the back of the police vehicle. This gives the officer time to assess the situation further and speak to other suspects or witnesses.

When only one or two people are detained, a typical police squad car holds or transports the individuals. If more than two people are detained, the law enforcement officers will use multiple squad cars or bring in a paddy wagon or a police van. After being loaded into the car or the van, they are driven to the jurisdiction’s police station or local jail, processed, and booked.

Depending on the severity of the crime, they will either be released or incarcerated. If the individual is removed, the police may issue a “notice to appear,” specifying where and when a suspect must appear in court for their arraignment. If the crime warrants, the individual usually remains incarcerated for some time, pending a judicial bail determination or an arraignment.

Learn how to Search Public Records to learn about a person’s history.

Arrest Warrants and Search Warrants: Issuance and Procedures

Most often, the term warrant refers to a specific type of authorization. The warrant usually refers to a writ issued by a competent legal officer, most often 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.

Courts typically issue warrants and are directed to the sheriff, constable, or police officer. A typical arrest warrant in the United States will take the approximate form of the following:

“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.”

What Do Private Investigators Need to Know

Private investigators should have a solid understanding of warrants, including search warrants and arrest warrants, as they play a crucial role in legal investigations. Here are key aspects that private investigators need to know:

A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes law enforcement officers to search a person, vehicle, or location for evidence of a criminal offense and then seize such items. All jurisdictions with the 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 are exemptions for “hot pursuit” situations. For example, if a criminal flees a crime scene and the police officer follows him, the officer can enter a home or building where the criminal is trying to hide.

  • Probable Cause: To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement must demonstrate probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime is likely to be found at the specified location.
  • Specificity: Search warrants must specify the location and the items or evidence sought. Private investigators must ensure that the search adheres strictly to the terms outlined in the warrant.
  • Execution: Warrants must be executed within a reasonable timeframe, and the investigator must follow proper procedures during the search. Any evidence seized outside the warrant’s scope may be deemed inadmissible in court.

An arrest warrant is an official document issued by and on behalf of the state that authorizes the detention of a specific 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, and law enforcement is notified of the issuance.

  • Issuance: Arrest warrants are typically issued when law enforcement presents evidence and establishes probable cause before a judge or magistrate. Private investigators need to understand the legal requirements for obtaining an arrest warrant.
  • Service: Arrest warrants provide the legal basis for law enforcement to apprehend the individual named in the warrant. Private investigators should know the proper procedures for executing arrest warrants and not attempt to make arrests themselves.
  • Rights of the Arrested Individual: Private investigators need to be aware of the constitutional rights of the individual being arrested, including the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a fair legal process.

Collaboration with Law Enforcement

Limited Authority: Private investigators do not have the authority to obtain or execute search or arrest warrants. They must collaborate with law enforcement agencies to ensure proper legal procedures are followed.
Information Sharing: Private investigators may provide information to law enforcement that could contribute to establishing probable cause and issuing warrants. However, they should always operate within the boundaries of the law.

  • Admissibility of Evidence: Private investigators must ensure that any evidence they collect is obtained legally and ethically. Evidence obtained in violation of constitutional rights or legal procedures may be excluded in court.
  • Privacy and Civil Liberties: Investigators should be mindful of privacy rights and civil liberties while conducting their work. Unlawful or intrusive methods may jeopardize the admissibility of evidence and lead to legal consequences.
  • Private investigators should familiarize themselves with relevant state and federal laws regarding warrants and consult with legal professionals to ensure that their investigative activities comply with the law.

Citizen’s Arrest: How Private Citizens Can Apprehend Criminals

A citizen’s arrest is considered physical detention made by a regular person who is not a sworn law enforcement officer. Making a citizen’s arrest dates back to medieval England and English common law when sheriffs encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend criminals to help control crime.

The arresting person (the person 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 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 eager to take the necessary action to prevent the crime from occurring rather than attempting to make formal detentions.

The person 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 doubtful that you will hear someone use the phrase today other than in jest.

For related information, see Miranda Rights. For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.

Please post a message below if you have questions about arrest warrants, search warrants, or other related topics.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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