Rights During Arrest

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute
Read this in:
Spanish / Español


Arrest, Search and Seizure

This document tells you the following:

  • What must police officers do to get an arrest warrant?
  • What are reasonable grounds?
  • In what situations may a police office make an arrest without a warrant?
  • What are citizens' arrests?
  • What are the "Miranda Warnings" and what do they mean?
  • What is the exclusionary rule?
  • Can Miranda rights be waived?
  • To what kinds of confessions does the Miranda ruling apply?

You may be aware that there are many laws regulating arrest. Likewise, many laws regulate search and seizure. These laws ensure that each person is treated fairly in situations in which arrests and searches and seizures occur. In this chapter, you will discover what some of these laws are and how they protect your rights. You will also see how important it is that those making arrests or searches follow the laws.



Arrests are usually made by an authorized person, such as a police officer or sheriff. These officials may arrest with a warrant or, under certain circumstances, without one. A warrant is a document giving authority to do something-in this case, arrest.

With a Warrant

How do police obtain a warrant? First, a police officer or private citizen makes a sworn statement, an affidavit, before a judge (see the affidavit below).

Affidavit for Arrest Warrant


Personally came_____________________ , who on

oath says that to the best of his knowledge and belief,

__________________ did on the______day

of__________, in the year_______, in the county

aforesaid, commit the offense of______________ .

The place of occurrence of said offense being

______________and against________________ .

Said offense being described as________________


and this deponent makes this affidavit that a warrant

may issue for his arrest.___________________


Sworn to and subscribed before me, this the
_____ day of______________ , 20_____ .

_______________, Judge of____________ County

Magistrate Court

Georgia law requires that the affidavit identify:

• the person to be arrested,
• the offense said to have been committed,
• the date and time it was committed,
• the person against whom the offense was committed, and
• the place of the offense.

These requirements enable the authorities to inform the accused of the specific charges against him or her. You may recall that one aspect of due process is notice. Persons likely to suffer loss of life, liberty, or property must be notified of the charges against them.
Note that as a private citizen, you should not initiate criminal action against someone without strong reasons. If you wrongfully accuse someone of a crime, you could be sued.

The evidence presented in the affidavit must be convincing. The judge issuing the warrant must find probable cause to believe that the accused committed the offense. Probable cause means that there is more than a mere suspicion. There must be reasonable grounds to suspect that the person committed the crime.


Without a Warrant

Can arrests be made in Georgia without a warrant? State law allows a police officer to arrest someone without a warrant in only four situations.

They are as follows:

1. when the offense is committed in the officer's presence or with his or her immediate knowledge

2. when an offender is attempting to escape

3. when there is probable cause to believe an act of family violence has occurred

4. for such other cause if there is likely to be a failure of justice because a judge is not available to issue a warrant

The reasons for exceptions one, two, and three are clear. In none of the situations would there be time to get a warrant. For example, suppose a police officer sees someone snatch a purse. In all likelihood, the person is not going to wait around while the officer goes to get a warrant to arrest him. The fourth exception gives the officers and the state (represented by the prosecutor) a general reason to argue that the arrest was valid without a warrant. Unless responding to one of these four exceptions, a police officer may arrest only with a warrant. Otherwise, the arrest is illegal.

Citizen's Arrests

As a private citizen, you have no authority to arrest anyone with a warrant. Without a warrant, you may arrest anyone who commits a mis-demeanor or a felony in your presence or with your immediate knowledge. A citizen's arrest occurs when a citizen prevents a suspect from leaving a scene. Citizen's arrest most often happens in cases like shoplifting, when the store's manager detains the suspected offender. However, as the following example shows, the manager or employee cannot make such an arrest in every case.

In Winn Dixie Stores Inc. v. Nichols, 205 Ga. App. 308, 422 S.E. 2d 209 (1992), a Winn Dixie customer complained to management that another customer stole her wallet. The court held that the limited rights of merchants to detain or arrest a person reasonably believed to have committed a shoplifting offense do not authorize a merchant to detain or arrest individuals accused by store patrons of committing crimes against other patrons. To make the arrest, an employee would have had to actually see the criminal act committed. Therefore, it was ruled that management had no authority to arrest the alleged criminal.The court suggested that the only person who could have made the citizen's arrest was the robbed customer herself.

When making a citizen's arrest, a person may not use more force than is reasonable to make the arrest. Deadly force is limited to self-defense or to instances in which such force is necessary to prevent certain felonies.

It must be stressed that the right of private citizens to make a citizen's arrest is limited. They cannot arrest people for violating local ordinances or regulations because these violations are not technically crimes as defined by state law.Therefore, as a private citizen, you would not have the authority to arrest a person who is creating a disturbance by making too much noise. In addition, a private person can only make a citizen's arrest for the purpose of bringing the suspect before a judicial officer


The courts have held that possessing more drugs than a person can reasonably be expected to take for personal use indicates that the person intends to sell the drug. The courts also look at other factors, including whether the accused had a large sum of cash on him or her. Another factor is whether the drugs are in individual packages at the time of the arrest. For example, 10 hits of crack cocaine might be packaged in 10 vials, each containing 1 hit.


The Miranda Warning

Due process of law requires that, before a person in custody accused of a crime can be questioned, the arresting officer must give that person the Miranda warning. The Miranda warning (see the table below) is made up of a number of rights derived from the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the reading of these rights to be a necessary part of due process of law. 384 U.S. 346 (1966).

Miranda Warning

1. You have the right to remain silent.

2. Anything you say can and will beused against you in a court of law.

3. You have the right to talk to an attorney and have him present with you while you are being questioned.

4. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish.

5. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.

The Miranda warning is to be given once a suspect is in custody, that is, when the suspect is detained (not free to leave), even if a formal arrest has not taken place. Most important, these rights must be read and understood by the accused before he or she can be questioned.

In practice, officers do not always read these rights to every suspect. If they have failed to formally advise the suspect of his or her Miranda rights and the suspect makes a statement while in custody, the statement can be excluded from the trial of the case. The statement can also be excluded from the trial if it is shown that the suspect did not understand his or her Miranda rights or if the suspect did not make the statement voluntarily.

Not having received a Miranda warning is not a defense for committing the crime. However, at trial the accused will certainly argue that the statements and confessions should be excluded from the evidence presented in the case. If no statement or confession is given by the defendant, then there is nothing to exclude. Therefore, no problem exists, even though Miranda rights may not have been read at the time the defendant was arrested or detained.

What happened in this famous case resulting in what everybody now knows as Miranda rights?

In the Miranda case, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested and charged with kidnapping and rape. Miranda was poor, uneducated, and somewhat mentally disturbed. He was taken to the police station and identified by the victim. He was then shut in an interrogation room with several police officers. He was intensively questioned for a number of hours.

Never did these police officers tell Miranda that he had the right to remain silent and not say anything that would lead toward the establishment of his guilt (in other words, that he had the right not to incriminate himself under the Fifth Amendment). Nor did they tell him he had the right to a lawyer (a right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment). Finally, after several hours, the officers came out of the interrogation room with a written, signed confession by Miranda.

In the Miranda case, the U.S. Supreme Court justices made use of the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule says that illegally obtained evidence cannot be used to convict a person of a crime.

The Supreme Court applied the rule to confessions and statements made by defendants to ensure that police officers would follow the principles laid out in their decision. Also, the court wanted to ensure that persons accused of a crime were advised of their basic rights. In the past, police officers had often questioned suspects for hours or even days until confessions were obtained (and in rare instances, even used torture).

With their ruling in the Miranda case, the justices wanted to prevent such behavior by the police. The court also expanded the rights of the accused to protect them from giving involuntary statements because they did not know they could remain silent. The justices did not feel that a person should be convicted of a crime on the basis of a confession illegally obtained through physical abuse or ignorance.

The courts continue to interpret the Miranda decision, expanding the interpretation of it in some cases and narrowing it in others. For instance, in the 1980 case of Rhode Island v. Innis, the Supreme Court held that the term interrogation, as used in the Miranda case, was not limited to express questioning by the police. 446 U.S. 297 (1980).

The court said that interrogation also included any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those that normally accompany arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.

The rights spelled out in the Miranda warning can be waived by a prisoner. However, the waiver must be given voluntarily. The prisoner must understand his or her action. There must be no trickery, promises of leniency, or threats by police officers. The figure below shows how police officers might present the waiver.

Miranda Warning Waiver

After the warning and in order to secure a waiver, the following questions should be asked and an affirmative reply secured to each question.

1. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?

2. Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?

* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Jul 30, 2004