Developments in the Law Regarding Warrantless Arrests


Attorney, Brian J. Malone, published an article in regards to Developments in the Law Regarding Warrantless Arrests,  in the December Missouri Bar Journal. 

Both the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions mandate that arrest warrants be based upon probable cause and be supported by an oath or affirmation.[2] Probable cause exists if “a reasonably prudent and cautious person would believe that the suspect has committed an offense.”[3] However, there is no constitutional requirement that arrests can only be made after a judge issues a warrant. Police officers can make an arrest without a warrant under certain circumstances. While this authority is limited, officers and the cities that employ them can face significant liability if this power is exercised improperly, to say nothing of the devastating consequences to persons wrongfully arrested.

Some recent cases examined officers’ authority to make arrests based upon entries in a law enforcement database that a person is “wanted” in another investigation. A “wanted” is different than a warrant issued by a judge. A “wanted” is entered by an officer conducting an investigation that isn’t necessarily concluded and in which the suspect can’t be immediately located. There might be probable cause to arrest, but the officer who encounters a person and sees that he or she is “wanted” generally won’t know for sure.

Should an officer rely on a “wanted” entered into a law enforcement database by another officer to make an arrest? State v. Pate,[4] from the Missouri Court of Appeals in 2015, and U.S. v. Holloman,[5] from a federal magistrate court in 2017, reached different conclusions. In 2018, a federal district court ruled in Furlow v. Belmar, et al.[6] that officers of the St. Louis County Police Department could make arrests based upon wanteds so long as there was probable cause to arrest when the wanted was entered. Though the court in Furlow found the practice to be constitutional (at least with regard to the cases before the court), the St. Louis County Police Department has revised its policy regarding “wanteds.” Moving forward, St. Louis County police will only enter a person as wanted for felonies.[7] St. Louis County police officers who learn that a person is wanted are now required to contact the investigating officer to discern the probable cause utilized to enter a person as wanted.[8] As of this writing, some of the plaintiffs’ claims in Furlow – relating to whether their arrests were lawful – remain pending in the district court. However, the judge in Furlow has ruled that if a wanted was entered based on probable cause, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.[9]

This article will examine the constitutional framework for warrantless arrests and the Missouri statutes that limit the authority of police officers to make them.

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