Many people may believe that an arrest is only legal if a police officer has a warrant to arrest the person or if the police officer sees the person commit a crime. However, this is not always the case; warrantless arrests are allowed under limited circumstances depending on the offense.
For example, if the crime at issue is a misdemeanor, the law allows the police to make an arrest without a warrant if the crime was committed in the officer’s presence. There are also exceptions for domestic assault and violations of an order for protection or restraining order.
If the crime at issue is a felony, it is not required for the officer to be present during the commission of the crime to make a warrantless arrest. They can arrest the suspect any time after the incident.
It’s also important to keep in mind that if the police attempt to arrest an individual, it’s illegal to obstruct, hinder, or prevent the police from lawfully executing an arrest. So, even if the police are arresting someone illegally, if you prevent an arrest—legal or not—you could then be charged with obstructing legal process. This can result in a misdemeanor with up to 90 days in jail, a gross misdemeanor with up to a year in jail, or a felony with up to 5 years in prison (depending on whether you make threats, are violent, or damage property).
To prevent more charges, if you are being arrested, make sure to remain peaceful and do not threaten or harm the police or any person or property during an arrest. Following the incident of a potentially unlawful arrest, you can contact a lawyer to help you determine whether the arrest was illegal and what next steps to take to fight the illegal arrest in court.