Arrests and Arrest Warrants in Federal Criminal Cases

Arrests in federal criminal cases are more common than you think.  In 2012, more than 170,000 people were arrested by law enforcement agencies around the country.  In this page, we will discuss and answer some of the common questions people have when they or someone they know have just been arrested by federal authorities.

What can cause a federal arrest? 

In federal criminal cases, a person who is arrested has usually been the target of a (sometimes) lengthy investigation.  The investigation could have begun years before the arrest itself, and agents may have conducted countless hours of surveillance and reviewed numerous documents to gather evidence against the targets of the investigation.

Before the arrest, the agents executing the arrest will have usually applied for and obtained an arrest warrant in a federal district court.  The arrest warrant will name the person to be arrested, specify a place and time for the arrest, and also list the crimes that the person is being arrested is accused of.

To put it simply, federal arrests usually are not spontaneous affairs.  If you or someone you know have been the subject of a federal arrest warrant, it means that the government has already gathered substantial evidence and is now prepared to formally prosecute you.  Thus, it is very important that you take a federal arrest seriously.

What happens during a federal arrest?

 In federal cases, most arrests are done through arrest warrants signed by a federal magistrate judge. Agents responsible for executing the arrest will visit the target at his or her place of residence—or sometimes, workplace—and announce themselves.  They will then explain to the arrestee what is happening, and perhaps sometimes also include an explanation of why someone is being arrested.  They will read the arrestee his or her Miranda rights.  Afterwards, the arrestee will be taken to the nearest federal detention center, where he or she will be booked, and the scheduled for an initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge for the purposes of determining bail.  Usually, if the person arrested has not had time to retain an attorney, the Court will appoint someone to represent the person for purposes of bail.

What should I do if I am arrested?

If you are the person arrested, it is important to keep the following three things in mind and follow them strictly:

  • Do not resist or avoid the arrest. The federal government is a powerful machinery and most people’s efforts to resist or avoid arrest will be futile.  Moreover, resisting or attempting to evade arrest is a separate crime.  If you attempt to evade or resist an arrest, not only will you risk being charged with new crimes, this attempt will likely result in you being found to be ineligible for bail or pretrial release.
  • Do not make any statements other than answer basic questions such as giving your name and date of birth. When you are arrested in the United States, the arresting agent is required by law to read you your Miranda rights, which includes a warning that “anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.”  It is important that you understand what this warning means:  anything you say can only be used against   The law provides that if you say anything that incriminates yourself, those statements can be used against you in Court.  If, however, you say anything that exonerates or exculpates yourself, those statements are not admissible in Court.  In other words, what you say to law enforcements agents during an arrest can only hurt, and never help, your case.
  • Immediately ask for an attorney. You have the right to an attorney.  This attorney can be someone you hire, or it can be someone appointed by the Court.  No matter the circumstance, if you have been arrested, it is vitally important that you immediately ask for an attorney.

If you follow these three points above, you will put yourself in the best possible position to deal with the charges following your arrest.

What happens after someone has been arrested?

After an arrest, there will be an opportunity for the arrestee to ask for pretrial release and bail.  Once you have retained an attorney or been appointed an attorney, that attorney will also begin working on the pretrial phase of your case, which includes things such as plea bargaining (if applicable), discovery review, pretrial motions, and trial preparation.  For an overview of other topics related to this process, please visit our Criminal Defense Resources page.