judge gavel and handcuffs

If law enforcement officers had the power to arrest anyone whenever they wished for any reason—or no reason at all—we would live in a totalitarian state without the rule of law. To avoid this situation and to preserve democracy, the Constitution of the United States as well as individual state laws set forth strict limitations on police power and give certain legal rights to the people. Perhaps one of the most important laws regarding police authority is the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which bestows upon individuals the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure. “Seizure” can include a person’s property but also of their own person. This prohibits police from arresting or even pulling someone over without a valid and particular reason.

Police departments are expected to put certain arrest procedures in place that uphold all laws related to the rights of the people in the United States. However, television shows and other media can create many misconceptions about the requirements for police officers and your rights during an arrest. The following are only some examples of arrest procedures that law enforcement officers should always follow.

Probable Cause for an Arrest

When an officer does not have an arrest warrant, they must have what is referred to as probable cause. This means that the officer has probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime prior to placing that individual under arrest. Arrest without the necessary probable cause is a violation of the arrested person’s 4th Amendment rights. Courts have determined that probable cause must be more than a mere hunch—it must be based on sufficiently strong circumstances or evidence that would lead a reasonable and prudent person to believe that the crime had occurred or is occurring. The officer, however, is not required to believe the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard for finding guilt in a criminal trial. Probable cause can be attained in several ways. Police tips, witness statements, or the fact that an officer actually observed an unlawful act taking place.

Miranda Rights

Almost everyone has heard the speech, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you choose to say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and, if you cannot afford an attorney, one may be appointed for you.” This speech has been repeated countless times in movies and on television shows as a police officer is arresting someone, often creating a misconception that officers must inform you of your Miranda rights anytime they place you under arrest.

In reality, Miranda rights are necessary when the following two factors exist:

  • When you are in a custodial situation (which can mean being under arrest or simply feeling like you are not free to leave).
  • When the police are interrogating you.

If you are simply being questioned about being detained or if you have been arrested but the police are not trying to elicit answers related to the crime, Miranda rights are not necessary. There is also not a specifically required script for Miranda rights, either. Police may change the wording as long as they inform you of all required rights.

Use Only Reasonable Force

Police cannot use an excessive amount of force in order to complete an arrest. However, they are allowed to use reasonable force during an arrest if a suspect resists, tries to escape, or attacks the officer. Whether force was reasonable is determined on a case-by-case basis and courts take the following factors into consideration:

  • The severity of the alleged offense
  • If the suspect was considered to be a threat
  • If the suspect tried to flee the scene or resist arrest

For example, police cannot use deadly or extreme force against a suspect who they believe is unarmed and suspected of shoplifting. Police force has been an issue in the public spotlight recently due to the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Call an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer at the Zeiger Firm for Help!

If you believe that you have been unlawfully arrested or that your rights have been violated by the police in some way, your very first call should be to skilled criminal defense attorney Brian Zeiger at the Zeiger Firm in Philadelphia. Not only does Mr. Zeiger provide aggressive representation in criminal cases, but he also helps individuals recover for police brutality or other violations of human rights. Call our office today at 215-546-0340 for a consultation.


  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probable_cause
  3. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/miranda_warning
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Eric_Garner

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.