·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Can I Be Charged With A Crime Without Being Arrested?

— July 29, 2022

Due to jail overpopulation, police are progressively using citations in some urban areas.

A person accused of a crime does not imply that they have been arrested. Moreover, an individual can be accused or charged without being arrested. 

But although criminal charges usually follow an arrest, it is not the same as being charged. According to Alan Cohen, a Houston criminal defense lawyer, when the police have enough proof that you committed a crime, they will charge you; the charge will state the offense, when, and where it occurred. If you are arrested, the police will tell you that you are not required to speak to them, but if you do, any statements you make can be used against you.

Citations & Arrests

Most states have an alternative to arrests called “citations.” Officers can issue citations instead of arresting people for traffic offenses (such as speeding) and minor misdemeanors (such as shoplifting). A citation is an order to attend court. A person who signs the citation agrees to appear in court on or before the date mentioned in exchange for their freedom.

Due to jail overpopulation, police are progressively using citations in some urban areas. In some cases, the law requires jails to limit the number of inmates they house. As a result, many police departments instruct their officers to issue citations to suspects who would have been arrested in the past.

One unfortunate result of this is that some suspects who would benefit from going to prison and “cooling off” stay free, posing a risk to themselves and those who called the police (such as domestic violence victims). If asked about an arrest record, a person who got a citation instead of an arrest will be able to say no.

A Metropolitan Police Department cruiser in Washington, D.C. Image via Flickr/user:cliff1066 (source: (CCA-BY-2.0).

What Does Being Charged and Being Arrested Mean? 

Even though the police will usually charge and arrest you for minor crimes, you may only be accused and detained. If you have a felony conviction, you should contact a professional criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The police officers may not take you to the station if you are charged. Instead, they will give you a document with two dates: one to have fingerprints and pictures taken, and the other to go to court to schedule an appointment for trial. If you fail to appear for either of these dates, you may be charged with a failure to appear crime.

If the police arrest you, it typically indicates that the offense is more severe. The police will read you your rights and take you to the station, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed. When you are arrested, the police have the authority to search you.

Even if you are charged with a minor offense, the police may choose to arrest you in addition to charging you. You will be charged if you do not identify yourself, if the authorities suspect you will obstruct justice, or if the authorities suspect you will repeat the offense. In any case, it is best to talk with a lawyer as soon as possible. When you speak with your lawyer, the police are not allowed to listen in on the conversation.

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