Week 2 of my local citizen’s police academy had one speaker – the department’s prosecutor. He focused, of course, on law. In particular, Laws of Arrest, and Constitutional Law.
Although it can be tedious to read law books to get the details for your novel correct, if you want to bring readers into the courtroom, knowing the specifics of state statutes can be important.
But it’s not all about the courtroom. Before the alleged bad guy has been arrested and brought to court, police officers apply, and have to act within, the laws on a daily basis.
- The big point of the evening (and very important for a writer): probable cause exists, or it doesn’t; there’s no maybe or a little. It’s like being pregnant, it’s a yes or no situation.
So, don’t have your character say, “I think I have probable cause for a warrant.” Or “There might be probable cause for an arrest.” There either is probable cause, or there isn’t.
The full definition of probable cause is: facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which he or she had reasonably trustworthy information that would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that a crime had been committed by the person to be arrested.
Another bit of information I found helpful was a glimpse into state statutes, and in particular, how they are named. Every state is different. NH has “RSA” codes – Revised Statutes Annotated.
The RSA strives to collect all the current laws “of a public and general nature” in a single, numbered set. The United States Constitution and the New Hampshire Constitution are included in the RSA, which follows this structure:
- Titles addressing a general topic
- Sections, which may be one or more paragraphs
As an example, RSA 594:10 refers to the topic of “Proceedings in Criminal Cases,” Chapter 594 – “Arrests in Criminal Cases,” and in particular the section on “Arrest Without a Warrant.”
RSA 594:10-a goes one level deeper into 594:10 and talks about “Notice of Arrest.”
MA has “MGL” – Massachusetts General Laws, and using the same example from above, a Notice of Arrest can be found in: Part IV “Crimes, Punishments and Proceedings in Criminal Cases,” Title I “Crimes and Punishments,” Chapter 266 “Crimes Against Property,” Section 30A “Shoplifting; penalty; arrest without warrant.”
You can find state law books at your state library and, in many cases, online. And if you have a college nearby that focuses on state law, it will probably have a set of the books, too.
- A lawful arrest occurs when a person with authority to make the arrest, restrains the person (this doesn’t necessarily mean handcuffed, it means that the person believes he/she is not allowed to leave an officer’s presence), and the person being arrested understands the situation. So a person under the influence of drug or alcohol will be held until he/she sobers up enough to understand what is happening.
- A lawful arrest requires 3 things: Jurisdiction of the arresting officer, probable cause (remember, you either have it or you don’t), and an arrest warrant (or an exception to the need for a warrant).
Miranda: is only applicable if the person is being asked questions that could incriminate him or her
People convicted of a felony may face time in prison.
People convicted of a misdemeanor, may face jail time.
If you’re guilty of a civil wrong, it isn’t a crime, it’s a violation.
The PD is open to sharing so much information with us (the class), but there’s only so much that can be squeezed into 2.5 hours a week, and even less can be shared here, but I hope the highlights are helpful.
Next week, I’ll talk a little about the session on Investigations and Crime Scene Processing. (I love CSI stuff!)