It is a common misapprehension that police officers are required to tell you why you're being arrested or what offense you've committed when you're being arrested.
This legal legend may be supported by some state laws, like New York's, that require police to notify suspects of the reason for their arrests. But even these state laws allow police to forgo this requirement if it isn't practical.
Here is a general overview of when officers have to inform you of your charges:
There Must First Be an Arrest
Police can often detain or hold a suspect temporarily without completing an actual arrest. You have the right to remain silent whether you're actually under arrest or simply being detained, but police officers don't have to tell you anything either.
Most states have laws that define what kinds of crimes are "arrestable offenses." But the U.S. Supreme Court has held that arrests which violate these laws may still be constitutional, as long as they are supported by probable cause.
All arrests without a warrant must be supported by probable cause, no matter which state you're in. So every legal arrest must be based on probable cause that a suspect has committed a crime.
Constitutional Protection When Waiting for Charges
Still, there is no general requirement that, at the time of arrest, an officer has to share this probable cause assessment with the arrestee.
In Devenpeck v. Alford, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that although it's certainly "good police practice" to let a suspect know the reason for his arrest when taken into custody, there is no constitutional requirement to do so.
And while there is a requirement for a "prompt" probable cause determination by a neutral magistrate, the High Court has explained that this hearing may be reasonably held up to 48 hours after the time of arrest.
This hearing is usually satisfied at arraignment, which typically takes place within two to three days of an arrest, depending on state law. At arraignment, a defendant is informed of the charges (if there are any) and a judge's determination that they are supported by probable cause.
Arrest Warrant Requires Some Notice
If officers claim they have a warrant for your arrest, they are typically required to show it to you... when it is practical. In many cases, this may not occur until after the police have transported you to the station for booking.
While police generally don't have to inform you of your charges upon arrest, they do have to follow other rules when it comes to detaining and questioning suspects. If you believe police failed to follow the rules in your case, you may want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.
- No, the Officer Doesn't Have to Announce the Offense When He Makes An Arrest (The Volokh Conspiracy)
- Do You Have a 'Right' to Phone Calls After Arrest? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Civil Rights During a Traffic Stop: 5 Reminders (FindLaw's Blotter)
- What Is Stop-and-Frisk? Is It Ever Legal? (FindLaw's Blotter)