OVA: Pre-Arrest


If the police arrive at the scene of a crime and are able to quickly establish "probable cause" that a crime has been committed and that an identifed person has committed the crime, and the person so identified is found at or near the scene of the crime, or is found shortly after the crime at another location, the suspect may be arrested, taken into custody and brought to the police station for processing. 


For certain minor misdemeanor crimes, the suspect located at or near the scene of a crime may simply be issued a summons to appear in court on a specified date and time and will not be taken into police custody.


If the suspect has fled the scene of the crime before the police arrive, the police may attempt to locate the suspect and may solicit the assistance of other law enforcement agencies in locating him/her.  If the suspect cannot be located within a reasonable amount of time after the crime was committed, or, if "probable cause" that a particular individual committed the crime can't be established until further police investigation has occurred, the police will then have to apply for an arrest warrant before the suspect can be arrested and taken into custody.


There is an important exception for persons alleged to have committed felony (serious) crimes.  The police may arrest a suspect alleged to have committed a felony crime at any time without a warrant.


Police Investigation


A police investigation will determine if a crime has occured and who, if anyone, will be arrested. 


In domestic/family violence crimes, a police officer must make an arrest if the officer believes it is more likely than not (i.e., there is probable cause) that a domestic/family violence crime was committed.  The officer must make the arrest, if certain conditions exist, even if the victim requests that an arrest not be made. 


In domestic/family violence cases, if the police have probable cause to believe that each person committed a family violence crime they may arrest both parties.


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In conducting such an investigation, the police will typically speak with the complainant, the victim of the offense (if the complainant is not the victim) and any witnesses of the offense, if such witnesses exist.  The police investigator may take written statements from victims and witnesses and gather evidence from the scene of the crime.  The police may also take photographs of property damage and any injuries sustained by the victim.  The police will attempt to question any potential suspects.  In more serious and complex cases, such as homicide cases, the nature of the police investigation may become much more sophisticated and may involve other agencies, such as the state police and, perhaps, federal agencies.


DV cases; Sexual Assault cases; Victim Advocates.





Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, the investigation needed to establish "probable cause" to make an arrest may be done quickly and lead to an immediate arrest of the offender shortly after the crime was committed.  In some cases, a more elaborate and prolonged investigation may need to be conducted just to establish the "probable cause" needed to make an arrest. 


Failure to timely report crime can further complicate and prolong the time it will take to investigate a crime.


DV cases; Sexual Assault cases.





Even where a minimal investigation is required to establish the "probable cause" necessary to make an arrest, and the suspect is quickly apprehended and arrested, the police may be required to conduct a more intensive and continuing investigation to obtain evidence needed for the prosecution of the suspect.  Whether or not an arrest has yet occured, if scientific testing of any physical evidence related to the crime must be undertaken as part of the investigation, this can sometimes take months to complete depending on the sophistication of the test(s) involved and/or the backlog of cases at the state forensic laboratory.  Also, it can sometimes take time to contact, interview and obtain statements from witnesses and suspects.  These events can add substantially to the time required to investigate and prosecute a criminal case.


In summary, the police investigation in many cases may take some time to conduct in order to establish "probable cause" to make an arrest, gather and analyze evidence to help in the criminal prosecution of the accused, or both.


Arrest Warrant Application Process


In cases where an arrest cannot be made quickly, once enough evidence is obtained to establish "probable cause" to make the arrest, the police may seek an official document authorizing a police officer to arrest the person or persons suspected of having committed the crime(s).  The official document used for this purpose is the arrest warrant.


The arrest warrant application process can take some time to complete.  After the police conduct their investigation (which, may take some time to complete), the arrest warrant application will be completed by the police and submitted to a state's attorney, who must agree that, based upon the information supplied in the warrant application, "probable cause" exists to believe that a crime was committed and that a particular individual has committed the crime(s).  If the state's attorney agrees with the police, s/he will sign the arrest warrant application and submit it to a judge who, likewise, must be satisfied that the arrest warrant application establishes the requisite "probable cause" to arrest the individual named in the application.  If either the state's attorney or the judge refuses to sign the arrest warrant application, it will be returned to the police possibly for further investigation. 


Once a judge signs the arrest warrant application, the signed warrant is then returned to the police department for execution.


In sum, it may take some time for the police to conduct the investigation, obtain an arrest warrant, locate the suspect, and finally serve the arrest warrant on the suspect.


Crime victims have no legal, enforceable rights during the pre-arrest stage of a criminal prosecution.  Yet, the length of time it can often take for the police to investigate a crime (sometimes several weeks, several months, or even longer) can be the cause of great frustration to crime victims.


Another source of frustration for crime victims relates to the frequent unwillingness on the part of police officers to share information with the crime victim about the progress and/or status of criminal investigations. 


It is important for the crime victim to understand why the police are often reluctant to share information about an active criminal investigation.  Simply stated, it is often the case that any premature disclosure of information about law enforcement efforts to solve a crime could jeopardize a police investigation and, ultimately, stifle law enforcement’s ability to obtain the information and evidence needed to make an arrest in the case and/or for the state to successfully prosecute the crime.


For the same reason, the police may also be unwilling to provide the victim with a police report or other documentation related to an active criminal investigation. 


The crime victim should feel free to attempt to communicate with the police officials involved in the case.  If the police have completed their investigation they may be able to share certain information with the victim concerning an impending arrest or decision not to make an arrest in the case.  They may also be able to share additional information about the case with the crime victim at this point.


In homicide cases, where there are multiple surviving family members of the victim interested in obtaining information about the investigation, it is often a good idea for the family to designate a single family representative for contacting and communicating with the investigating law enforcement agency.


You may contact the Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA) for assistance in opening or re-establishing a line of communication with the investigating law enforcement agency.  Because crime victims have no enforceable legal rights during the pre-arrest stage of a criminal case, the State Victim Advocate's ability to provide assistance is limited.  However, often, law enforcement officials may be willing to discuss the case in general terms with the State Victim Advocate to enable him/her to understand and to explain to the crime victim(s) the nature of the delay in investigating the case.  However, the State Victim Advocate or any member of the OVA staff will not share with the crime victim any specific information obtained from law enforcement officials about the investigation of the matter.   


Content Last Modified on 1/11/2007 10:33:09 PM