Since the founding of the country, U.S. lawmakers have sought to protect the rights of citizens by placing limits on the actions of law enforcement. Police may not walk into your home whenever they want or search your vehicle without a reason to believe you have committed a crime. These constitutional rights often mean officers must take certain administrative steps before they can act against you.
This includes placing you under arrest. Unless police witness you committing a crime, they must obtain a warrant to arrest you. You may have seen this process dramatized on TV where detectives make a phone call and moments later have authorization to make an arrest. In reality, there is more to the process.
Obtaining a warrant
Officers who suspect you are involved in criminal activity must first prepare a written statement in which they attest oath that they have probable cause for your arrest. Probable cause does not necessarily mean they have enough evidence for your conviction, but they must have a reasonable belief that you have committed a crime or are planning to commit one. The validity of the arrest warrant depends on this. The affidavit must include the following information as it applies to the situation:
- Details about the alleged offense police believe you have committed or plan to commit
- A physical description of you, including your color, approximate height, hair style and other identifying features to ensure police avoid arresting the wrong person
- Witness accounts attesting to your alleged involvement in the crime
- Other evidence to support their claims of your involvement
Using this information, the presiding judge will determine if police have probable cause to make the arrest. If so, the judge will sign the warrant. The judge may also place restrictions on the warrant, such as limiting the amount of time police have to arrest you and specifying the time of day during which police may carry out the action.
Defending your rights
At any time before, during or after your arrest, there are many chances for New Jersey law enforcement to violate your rights. Police who swear to an affidavit that contains false or exaggerated evidence may obtain a warrant that is unlawful. Even if the warrant is valid, police actions during your arrest may violate your rights if they go beyond the scope and restrictions included in the warrant or use excessive force to detain you.
These and other factors may be impossible for you to fight alone. However, with the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney, you may have the effective representation that will provide you a better opportunity for achieving the most positive outcome possible.