Police officers do not make a lot of arrests in which people are taken into custody and actually jailed. Frequently, when a person is placed under arrest they are temporarily detained and then released with a paper summons to appear in court later.
Sometimes, however, officers have little choice but to make a physical arrest. When under arrest the person is not free to leave or to actively resist the officer. The proper place to argue the validity of the arrest is in court. This is true when a judge has issued a warrant for the person’s arrest. A warrant is an order from the court to take someone into custody and bring him or her before a judge to answer for a criminal offense. The prosecutor and the judge have already determined that there is adequate evidence called “probable cause” to believe that the person committed a crime. At other times, a judge will issue a warrant for a person’s arrest when they fail to appear in court. When serving arrest warrants, officers have little in the way of discretion.
Officers learn of arrest warrants when they are notified by the court. More common they learn of the warrant when they have contact with someone and run their driver’s license or license plate number through the statewide computer. Warrant files are linked to these computer files and to the national NCIC computer files.
Another type of order is an Arrest and Detention order, commonly known as an “A&D” order. A probation agent issues this order when a person violates conditions of probation. The agent orders the police to pick up the person and bring him or her to the county jail where they will be held until they can appear before a judge. There are two types of probation agents in Itasca County. They are the State Department of Corrections Probation Agent who supervises people who have been released from prison and the Itasca County Probation Agent who supervises people who have been released from the county jail. Either may issue A&D orders.
Absent a legal order to detain someone, officers may arrest people who they have reason to believe committed a crime. There are two reasons that police officers may jail a person in this circumstance. First, to keep the community safe from further criminal activity. Second, to insure the person’s appearance in court. This happens when a person has a history of not appearing on their court date. Sometimes people have the option of posting bail with court in lieu of jail.
When it comes to arrest and detention, officers must be knowledgeable in two types of laws. One is Statutory Law, adopted by the legislative branch of government. These laws are codified, placed in writing and spell out the elements of the crime. The other is Case Law, decisions made by judges as to how the law should be applied by police officers. The court looks at two things. “Is the law Constitutional and is it being applied by the police in a reasonable manner?” The “Miranda” decision is an example of case law. Case law forms the boundaries for how police officers enforce the law. Although the wording of our Constitution changes little over time, societal values do. These values are reflected in case law decisions, which change from time to time.
Two such case law decisions, one by the Minnesota Supreme Court and the other by the United States Supreme Court, set time limits on how long someone can be held in the county jail without being charged. One decision limits the time to 36 hours, the other 48 hours. The person must be released from jail if a judge has not reviewed the circumstances of the arrest within that time or the prosecutor has not filed formal charges. Charges can always be filed later.
This barely scratches the surface of the laws and rules regarding arrest and detention. Minnesota police officers must have knowledge of these. If this all sounds very confusing, it is. With changing case law, we are always on shifting sand. The criminal justice system depends upon discretion, interpretation and doing what is reasonable in a given circumstance. As with most things in policing, the only thing black and white are the squad cars.