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  • Reason to arrest someone

    Hi all,
    I am an author from Germany and not familiar with US law. Please allow me a question: In my novel a local police chief (in Virginia) gets upset because a newspaper reporter investigates in "his" serial killer case,which the police chief doesn't like at all ("That's not your business but mine"). He wants to teach him a lesson and arrest him for a while (a day or so, maybe only some hours) in order to intimidate the reporter. Now I am looking for a "reasonable" reason how or why the police guy could do that "officialy". (Of course, he can't disclose his private motivation and needs an "official" reason.) What kind of delict could he invent to arrest the reporter?
    Supposed, a reporter would really go on your nerves and someone would ask YOU to teach him a lesson (of course, you personally would NEVER take revenge ;-)) - what could you do quite easily in such a case?
    Please, remember: it's only a novel - I do not want to say that a police officer in general would act like that! In the end, "my" police guy is a good one!


    Thanks
    Thomas

  • #2
    Originally posted by pibuch View Post
    He wants to teach him a lesson and arrest him for a while (a day or so, maybe only some hours) in order to intimidate the reporter.
    You need to change your premise somehow if this story is to be set in the US. A police officer cannot "arrest someone for a while" here. An arrest serves one purpose in the United States: to present the individual before a court because they are believed to have committed a crime.

    Also, we cannot arrest simply because we want to or even because we think somebody may have committed a crime. An arrest is based on a legal principle called "probable cause," a term used in the US Constitution and defined over the years by the US Supreme Court. At its core, "probable cause" means enough information to cause a reasonable person to believe (not just suspect) that a crime has occurred and that the person to be arrested is the one who committed it. This is a significantly higher burden than (for instance) suspicion.

    Once arrested, it is the police officer's duty to present the individual before a court of appropriate jurisdiction without unreasonable delay. The brief stay in a jail cell is NOT considered punishment but is merely a means of ensuring the person appears in court -- the important principle here is that the police themselves are not allowed to "punish" people, only accuse them. It is up to the court to determine guilt and impose any penalties. In fact, with only the rarest of exceptions, police are required to let an accused person awaiting a court appearance out of jail immediately if one of two conditions is true: (1) it is considered very unlikely that they would fail to appear in court, in which case they must be released on a written promise to appear; or (2) they deposit an amount of money, ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands or even millions depending on the nature of the crime and the wealth of the individual, which will be returned to them when they appear in court.

    For completeness let me further explain that the government in the US is divided into three branches: the legislative, which makes the laws; the executive, which carries out the laws; and the judicial, which interprets and applies the laws. The police department and police chief are part of the executive branch, which is why they cannot impose punishment. The police department exists as a servant of both the legislative and judicial branches: it is their duty to determine if one of the legislative branch's laws were broken and then present the person before the judicial branch (the court) which is the only part of government that can impose a criminal penalty. Thus, the problem of "arresting someone for awhile" subverts the entire system, since the police department is bypassing the judicial system and directly imposing its own penalty.

    So a police chief who put someone in jail without probable cause, just because he wanted to hold him for a few hours or days and later released him without ever presenting him before a judge, would be violating a number of legal principles. In many cases it could result in his being removed as police chief, sued, and even charged criminally for kidnapping.

    This would be even more true in the case of a reporter, since "Freedom of the Press" in the US is another important legal principle. Arresting a reporter because you don't like what they're doing (unless they commit a specific crime) is an excellent career-ender.

    Since these principles are so well known here, the scenario you present would not be perceived as realistic by the average American reader. The only scenario that might fly is if, in your book, the entire community was corrupt including the local court. In that case a sham arrest could be made and the individual presented before a judge who was actually in league with the chief. Even that scenario is unrealistic because of all the checks and balances in the court system but perhaps it would fly for a novel.

    As to the charge -- well, I'm from Connecticut and you're asking about Virginia (each state has its own laws), but in my state we have a charge called "Interfering with an Officer" which would allow an arrest if the reporter's conduct interfered in a material way with the chief's investigation. For instance, suppose the police have someone working undercover in order to investigate a person or group and has befriended them, appearing to be a fellow criminal. Suppose further that the reporter somehow finds this out through his sources within the police department. If that reporter exposed the identity of the undercover officer (freedom of the press notwithstanding) he could be criminally charged, since his actions would directly interfere with the investigation AND endanger the safety of the undercover officer. That would be a very legitimate reason for the arrest; it would not be a sham. But you still have to address the fact that in that case, the arrested person must ultimately be presented before the court, not just released after hours or days without further action.

    There is one other issue worthy of consideration in developing your scenario. The basic rule for the making of arrests is that they must be made on a warrant. To obtain a warrant, the police prepare a written statement describing their investigation and all of the facts and circumstances which, if you read the statement, would make you believe a particular person (named in the statement) committed the crime. The officer preparing the statement signs it under oath (and could be arrested and put in prison if any of the statements are false). The statement is ultimately presented to a judge. If the judge agrees with the officers that the facts presented in the officer's statement provides probable cause to believe the individual is guilty of a crime, he signs the statement and it becomes an arrest warrant. At that time the officers can go and find the individual and arrest him. Any arrest that is NOT made in this way is considered an "exception to the warrant rule," of which there are many. The best known and most obvious exception is if the crime is committed in the officer's presence and his witnessed it himself, in which case he can make an immediate on-view arrest. But your scenario, I suspect, would put the chief in a position of having to deal with the warrant rule somehow.

    As I was writing all this, I did come up with one possible way of detaining your mythical reporter friend for a few hours, though. If the chief and a colleague (it takes two officers) wrote an application for a search warrant that convinced a judge that there were illegal items in the reporter's house, police could go to the house to execute the search warrant, and if the reporter conveniently happened to be inside the house at the time the warrant was being served, he could be detained inside the home (handcuffed if necessary) for the duration of the search. If the search warrant had the officers looking for something that was easily concealed (say, a diamond), that search could take hours and hours. If the items were not found during the search, the reporter would be released without ever actually having been arrested at all. Once again, though, this would require the officers to prepare a falsified written statement and swear an oath before God that those statements were true, and do so before a judge. It would be hard to later characterize them as "good guys" because most Americans (including police officers) would believe they belonged in prison if they engaged in such conduct. So you have to consider that in developing your scenario.

    Pete
    Last edited by PeteGould; 06-13-2008, 07:55 AM.

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    • #3
      What Pete said.....


      Or arrest him as a material witness.
      You can now follow me on twitter.

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      • #4
        Invite him to a bar to "talk things over," get him drunk, and arrest him for public intox when he leaves.

        That would be a pretty minor arrest, he wouldn't be held long, and it would be suitably sneaky to show your head bad guy is the bad guy he's supposed to be.

        For anything more major, pick up a DVD of "The Shield" and try any of those.
        I miss you, Dave.
        http://www.odmp.org/officer/20669-of...david-s.-moore

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        • #5
          Originally posted by pibuch View Post
          Hi all,
          I am an author from Germany and not familiar with US law. Please allow me a question: In my novel a local police chief (in Virginia) gets upset because a newspaper reporter investigates in "his" serial killer case,which the police chief doesn't like at all ("That's not your business but mine"). He wants to teach him a lesson and arrest him for a while (a day or so, maybe only some hours) in order to intimidate the reporter. Now I am looking for a "reasonable" reason how or why the police guy could do that "officialy". (Of course, he can't disclose his private motivation and needs an "official" reason.) What kind of delict could he invent to arrest the reporter?
          Supposed, a reporter would really go on your nerves and someone would ask YOU to teach him a lesson (of course, you personally would NEVER take revenge ;-)) - what could you do quite easily in such a case?
          Please, remember: it's only a novel - I do not want to say that a police officer in general would act like that! In the end, "my" police guy is a good one!


          Thanks
          Thomas
          he could claim the reporter had some important information for the case. As such the reporter could be detained as a witness, and interviewed.

          If you could articulate how the reporter was interfereing in the investigation, you could charge him with that. Obstruction of justice. Those are two holding charges. You would need to back it up thou.
          Some say to take action and to fail is to die a dogs death. I say to live, and fail to take action is to live a dogs life.

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          • #6
            Public Intoxication, RWS (Release When Sober - 4 hours in the tank).
            "Oro En Paz, Fierro En Guerra"
            "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
            - Attributed to both George Orwell and Winston Churchill (unsourced)
            Californian by birth, Cardinals fan by marriage!

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