Can police arrest me without evidence of my guilt?

Posted: August 27th, 2015 | Expert Advice | No Comments

By Stephen G. Cline | The Law Offices of Stephen G. Cline

There has been an increase in the media’s coverage of police misconduct recently and, as a result, questions about a person’s rights related to law enforcement and arrest have been more frequent. Probably the most common has been: Can police arrest me without evidence of my guilt?

The short answer is no. But to understand exactly what is required to arrest someone, we must wade through the quicksand of legalese that always makes even simple ideas complicated and confusing. In order to lawfully arrest you, an officer must have “probable cause” to believe that you have committed a crime. Probable cause can be defined as facts discovered through logical inquiry that lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that the accused has committed a crime. This is obviously a broad and vague standard which can be very vulnerable to the subjective interpretations of the officer involved in the particular situation. But, for the most part, it means that in order for an officer to arrest you, he/she has to have a reasonable belief that, based upon the “evidence” and/or facts present, you have committed a crime.

Evidence is not always direct in nature (i.e. an eyewitness saw you commit the crime). People often assume that if there is no eyewitness or forensic evidence (DNA, fingerprints etc.) then the officer cannot arrest you. This ignores that evidence can also be circumstantial or indirect in nature. This evidence can be little more than a series of separate facts, that taken as a whole, can imply guilt for a particular crime.

To put this in context, consider the common example presented to young law students for decades. Your mom has just baked a berry pie and told you and your brother to stay out of it while she runs to the store. Your mom comes home and somebody has taken a big chunk of pie. If she finds you in the closet stuffing that pie into your face, that would be direct evidence of your guilt. However, if she sees crumbs and wet footprints going from the pie out to the patio where you alone are playing in the pool, that would be circumstantial or indirect evidence of your guilt. In both instances, you could be lawfully arrested for taking the pie if that were a crime.

Officers can arrest based upon probable cause arising from either direct or circumstantial evidence. Our system of justice assumes they respect the probable cause requirement. However, when that assumption fails, our system also requires that once you are arrested/detained, a prosecutorial agency must review that officer’s probable cause report within a certain time period and either bring you to court to face formal charges or release you.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime in San Diego, it is absolutely in your best interest to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Prosecutors will begin building a case against you right away. You need someone on your side devoted to your defense.

Stephen Cline offers case evaluations at no cost and with no obligation. Call (619) 235-5638 today or visit us online at if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Stephen G. Cline is a San Diego criminal defense lawyer with more than 20 years of experience defending criminal cases. He started his career as a deputy public defender before moving into private practice and opening The Law Offices of Stephen G. Cline in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. He handles all criminal matters in local and federal courts, from misdemeanor theft to murder cases.

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