The constitutional law of arrest governs every occasion on which a government officer interferes with an individual’s freedom, from full-scale custodial arrests at one end of the spectrum to momentary detentions at the other. Its essential principle is that a court, not a police officer or other executive official, shall ultimately decide whether a particular interference with the liberty of an individual is justified. The court may make this judgment either before an arrest, when the police seek a judicial warrant authorizing it, or shortly after an arrest without a warrant, in a hearing held expressly for that purpose. The law of arrest gives practical meaning to the ideal of the liberty of the individual, by defining the circumstances in which, and the degree to which, that liberty may be curtailed by the police or other officers of the government; it is thus a basic part of what we mean by the rule of law in the United States.
Publication Information & Recommended Citation
White, James Boyd. "Arrest." In Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, edited by L. W. Levy and K. L. Karst. New York: Macmillan, 1986.