Can I Get Arrested if the Police Don’t Have a Warrant?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, and this has long been interpreted to mean that police cannot simply arrest you for any reason they want. Instead, in most cases, police officers need to demonstrate probable cause to believe you committed a crime and obtain a valid arrest warrant.
However, like most legal principles, there are exceptions to the warrant requirements for an arrest. This is because there are situations in which taking the time to stop and get a warrant is not possible or might endanger the public. The following are some reasons why police might be able to arrest you without a warrant:
- The officer witnessed you committing a criminal offense
- The officer witnessed you committing a traffic offense
- There are exigent circumstances, including officers believing that someone (or the public in general) is in danger if you are not arrested, that you are destroying evidence of a crime, or that you might escape and avoid arrest if a warrant is sought
For example, if an officer pulls you over because you were allegedly driving erratically, and they discover you are intoxicated due to a breathalyzer test, they can arrest you at the traffic stop without seeking a warrant. This is because letting you drive away would be a risk to public safety, they witnessed the offense happening, and the chemical test provided probable cause to believe you were over the legal limit.
In all of these situations, however, officers still need to meet the probable cause standard for a lawful arrest. If there was no probable cause, your defense lawyer could prove that your arrest was unlawful and seek the dismissal of your charges.
Can the Police Conduct a Warrantless Search?
Similar to needing an arrest warrant under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers are also required to obtain a search warrant if they want to search you or your property, which might include your purse or belongings, vehicle, or home. However, there are also exceptions to this requirement, and police officers can conduct a lawful search without a warrant in some circumstances.
Exceptions to the warrant requirement include:
- Plain View – If officers can clearly see any contraband in plain sight while making a traffic stop or during the course of their other duties, they have the right to seize that evidence without first seeking a warrant, and the evidence can be used in a case against you in a criminal case.
- Search Incident to Arrest – If police are making an arrest, they can search the arrestee for possible weapons to ensure the safety of the officers. They can also search certain areas of a vehicle or home if they believe there will be evidence of the underlying crime for which the arrest was being made.
- Vehicle Impoundment – If police make an arrest at a traffic stop and the vehicle is impounded, they can search the entire vehicle to ensure there is nothing dangerous that will put others at risk.
- Consent – Police officers can always ask for your consent to perform a search, and if you provide consent, they can conduct a search without obtaining a warrant. That being said, you always – always – have the right to refuse consent to a search, and it is generally wise to do so, even if you believe you have nothing unlawful.
It is far too common for police officers to conduct unlawful warrantless searches. If this happens, your defense attorney can argue that any evidence stemming from the unlawful search should be inadmissible against you. This can often lead to the dismissal of charges if the prosecutor was relying on that evidence.
What’s a Plea Bargain? Should I Accept a Deal?
When you think of a criminal case, you might first think of having to go to trial before a jury who will decide your fate. However, it might surprise you to learn that the large majority of criminal cases do not go to trial at all. Many of these cases are resolved when a defendant decides to plead guilty to the offense in exchange for a plea bargain.
A plea bargain is an agreement reached between the prosecutor and your defense attorney. Because preparing for and going to trial can require significant resources, prosecutors want to avoid trial as much as possible. For this reason, they are often willing to offer favorable terms of a plea bargain should you decide to plead guilty.
Some common plea bargain terms include:
- Dropping one or more charges if you face multiple allegations or counts
- Recommending probation or similar penalties instead of a jail sentence, which allows you to keep working and living with your family in the community
- Reducing charges, such as possibly reducing a moving traffic violation to a non-moving violation to avoid points on your license, or reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor
Often, accepting a plea bargain is a wise choice, especially if your defense lawyer believes that the prosecutor has strong evidence to convict you. If you reject an offer and go to trial, the prosecutor might seek the maximum sentence if you are found guilty. You have greater control over your fate if you accept a plea bargain.
That said, there are many implications of a guilty plea, and you should never plead guilty without first having a defense attorney review your situation. If you are offered a plea bargain, weigh your options with your attorney, so you fully understand what to expect if you take the offer.
Does Caifornia Have a Three Strikes Law?
Three strikes laws set out particularly harsh sentences for individuals who are convicted of three offenses that are considered to be serious felonies, and California does have this type of law. These can include both violent and nonviolent offenses, including:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Rape or forceful sodomy or oral copulation
- First-degree burglary
- Grand theft with a firearm
- Selling methamphetamine, heroin, PCP, or cocaine to a minor
- Any offense involving a firearm or great bodily harm
If you have two qualifying convictions on your record, and you are convicted of a third felony, it can enhance your sentence considerably. If you are charged with a third felony that is not considered to be a “strike” offense, the usual sentence for your current conviction can be doubled by the court. If your third offense is another serious or violent felony on the three strikes list, your sentence can be 25 years to life in prison. This is the case even if the usual sentence for your charge is much less than 25 years.
If the third case involves more than one felony charge, the defendant must serve the sentence for each conviction consecutively, which can mean 50 or more years in prison for someone convicted of two offenses as a third striker. In addition, three strikers are not eligible for the usual custody credit, which can allow for release after serving 50 percent of a sentence with good behavior. Instead, three strikers must complete 80 to 85 percent of their sentences before they can be eligible for parole.
There are ways to defend against three strikes cases, and this situation is dire, so you need a criminal defense attorney on your side immediately if you are in this situation. This also means it is important to avoid a first or second conviction of a “strike” offense to prevent potential three strikes sentencing in the future.
Is it Worth it to Hire a Lawyer if I’m Guilty?
While some people are wrongfully arrested and accused of a crime, others who face criminal charges know that they did something wrong. The prosecutor might have clear-cut evidence that you committed an offense, and you might plan to plead guilty since you think being found guilty at trial is inevitable. In this situation, you might think there is no point in hiring a criminal defense lawyer, but the right lawyer can still improve the outcome of your case in different ways.
First, the criminal justice system and laws are more complicated than most people think. There are complex criminal defenses and possible violations of your rights that can help you avoid a criminal conviction.
For example, if police officers found drugs in your vehicle at a traffic stop, you might assume that the drug evidence means a certain conviction of drug possession. However, if an attorney reviews the case and the circumstances surrounding your arrest, they might realize that the search of your vehicle was in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Any evidence obtained unlawfully by police officers should not be used against you, and your attorney can move for the court to deem the drug evidence inadmissible. Without that evidence, the prosecutor might not have a case against you and might drop your charges. This is only one instance in which a defense lawyer can identify legal strategies to avoid a conviction that you would likely not know about.
In addition, if you decide to plead guilty, you need to understand all of the long-term implications of doing so, and a defense lawyer can advise you of all possible consequences. Further, prosecutors will negotiate with defense attorneys for a favorable plea bargain, though they usually will not make such offers to unrepresented defendants. A plea bargain might mean a reduced sentence or lesser charges.
In short, it is always worth it to hire a criminal defense attorney, even if you know you are guilty.
How much does a criminal defense lawyer cost in California?
The fees that a Riverside criminal defense attorney charges will vary based on many factors. These include the nature of the criminal charges in question, the potential consequences of a conviction, the criminal defense lawyer’s experience and reputation, and more. For example, fees might be higher for an attempted murder case than for theft crimes or drug crimes charged as misdemeanors. When an experienced criminal defense attorney has a proven track record of successful defense strategies, they might charge higher fees for their legal counsel.
Some people facing criminal charges are already concerned about money. They might try to save money by attending their criminal proceedings without legal representation. This is a mistake, however, as the criminal justice system does not favor defendants. Defendants without a criminal defense team often receive harsher and costlier penalties, which means they lose more in the long run than if they had hired a Riverside criminal lawyer.
Do you need a criminal defense lawyer for a misdemeanor offense?
While you might know you need a lawyer for a felony sex crime accusation or a similarly serious charge, you might wonder whether you need defense representation for a misdemeanor offense. Misdemeanors can only result in one year in jail, and many defendants only serve probation.
Still, a misdemeanor can impact your life in many lasting and costly ways. A conviction goes on your record, and you will likely be ordered to pay fines, court costs, and other penalties. Many people are surprised at how much a misdemeanor conviction can affect their lives, and a lawyer can help you avoid a conviction whenever possible.