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Is it possible for officers to make an illegal arrest?

Getting arrested is often the first step in a long and difficult journey of maintaining one's innocence. You undoubtedly did not expect to find yourself in handcuffs, but now that it has happened, you likely have an uncountable number of questions about what happened and what is going to happen.

After your arrest, the officer likely transported you to a local jail. Hopefully, your stay was short, even though you likely have a court date set for the near future. Nonetheless, rather than waiting for the day before your court date to prepare, you may want to write down as much as you can remember about the circumstances of your arrest as soon as possible. Every detail you can remember could go a long way in determining whether the arrest was legal.

Are all arrests legal?

You, and many other Washington residents, may automatically assume that police officers have the legal right to take someone into custody if they believe it is necessary. However, that is not necessarily the case. Even if an officer suspects wrongdoing, he or she cannot arrest a person without having probable cause to do so. Probable cause is essentially evidence that supports the officer's suspicions enough to warrant an arrest. This evidence could come in the form of the following examples:

  • Information obtained from questioning witnesses, alleged victims or other informants
  • Observations of the officer, such as smelling marijuana or seeing open containers of alcohol in a vehicle
  • Evidence that indirectly points to criminal activity, such as a broken lock or window
  • Recognition of tools, paraphernalia, substances or other details that an officer knows typically relate to criminal activity

Of course, even these details may not be sufficient enough to act as probable cause in some cases, which is why it is important that you understand when an officer can make a lawful arrest and what constitutes probable cause.

What if you do not know?

You may not have full working knowledge of state laws and regulations relating to arrests and probable cause, but you can still help yourself by considering every detail of your arrest. Something that seems insignificant to you may actually be useful to your defense. Writing down this information and providing it to an experienced criminal defense attorney could allow your legal counsel to assess the arrest and determine whether the officer may have acted unlawfully.

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Tim Kelly

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