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MAIN Arrow to Home Life Home Life Arrow to Legal Advisor Home Legal Guide Arrow to Arrest Arrest

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you." US Miranda rights.

handcuffsWhat does it mean to be "under arrest"?

The vast majority of people only know about arrests by watching popular TV crime shows in which suspects are physically caught or cleverly outwitted with a very dramatic..."OK, you're under arrest!"

But as many police officers will tell you, it hardly ever happens that way.

Before deciding on an arrest, a police officer may begin with a series of questions that they are are allowed to ask (under US law) before the formal reading of Miranda rights.

These questions may include ascertaining your name, or questioning why you are located near the scene of a suspected crime. Officers also may, for their own protection, pat down a suspect to see if they are carrying weapons. Depending on the outcome, a person may be subjected to further questioning before they are peacefully sent on their way.

If, on the other hand, a police offer witnesses first-hand any person engaged in unlawful behavior, that person may immediately be handcuff or otherwise restrained from leaving. Later brought to the local police precinct or jail, they may then be considered truly "under arrest."

Just like everyday citizens, however, police are also constrained under the law to make sure they are not making an Illegal arrest -- usually without probable cause. This may include mistaken identity or racial profiling. Other times an arrest may not stand up in court is following an illegal search and seizure (without a warrant.)

If you're stopped on the road

Getting a traffic ticketWhile the issuing of speeding tickets is relatively common, sometimes highway or city police may stop a driver for drunk driving, drug possession, or other suspicious activity carrying more serious charges.

In this case, police are typically allowed to ask for driver's license and registration, search the passenger section and may frisk occupants for weapons.

However, it's usually at the discretion of the car owner to allow a search of the trunk, an area of the car that falls under "illegal search and seizure" without an official warrant.

If you're arrested during a street protest

Despite recent headlines, yes, free speech is still protected under the law in most of the world's democratically-governed countries. Your right to to distribute pamphlets or to picket unfair labor practices on public property also remains protected under the law. cops at a street protest

While some badly-trained local police departments might disagree, taking photos or video during demonstrations is also permitted in public places. Further, the police may not confiscate equipment or demand to see any photographic evidence in your possession without a warrant.

Trouble arises when private property is used to stage public protests; or if demonstrations disrupt the free flow of public pedestrian or vehicular traffic; or if protests become violent.

If arrested during a protest, know your rights and stay calm. The street is not the place to resist arrest.

If asked, state your name and nothing else. You may be patted down in a search for weapons, but you have the right to refuse a search of yourself or your belongings without a warrant.

As always, you have a right to remain silent. Say nothing else until a lawyer is present. If you feel that you have been wrongfully arrested, calmly jot down officer's badge or police car numbers. If injured, take pictures of your injuries as evidence and, if possible, gather contact information from witnesses. These steps will greatly help in your defense or if you decide to lodge a complaint with the police or a local community review board later.

Arrested abroad

While traveling in a foreign country it's always best to familiarize yourself with local laws to avoid risking arrest.

airport security dog checks for illegal possesionsIgnorance of the law will not stand up in many international courts, so -- always think twice before you engage in any activity that you may even suspect may be illegal. (That goes especially for college students far from home while on spring break.)

According to the US State Department, drug possession and firearms possession are two illicit activities that top the list of reasons you may be arrested in a foreign country. These are followed by illegal trafficking in antiques (especially in the Middle East) or innocently taking photos of security-related institutions.

If arrested abroad, your home government embassy or consular offices are available to help citizens with their legal defense. However, the smarter option might be to call a spouse or trusted friend. They, in turn, can reach out to a number of organizations for help on your behalf -- especially if you're arrested while traveling in a third world country where the court system is not formally structured to put in mildly.

Finally, no matter where in the world you happen to be stopped on the road or suspected of a crime, it is usually a citizen's basic right when arrested to first seek legal counsel before cooperating any further.

also see -> Help for crime victims

More about arrests & legal advice around the Web:


Criminal Law
- Virtual encyclopedia of law information with answers to common questions including what to do if arrested, an explanation of Miranda rights, the process of criminal prosecution, court trials, and related topics including drunk driving arrests and white collar crime.

Your rights on arrest - UK legal guide with tips on arrests on the road, street, or at football games, information on home searches and legal rights with related advice hotlines, and a helpful FAQ from the Police National Legal Database.

The information provided on these pages is intended as reference
only and does not constitute professional legal advice.


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