Skip to Content
Call Us Today! 925-886-4281

Are Warrantless Arrests Legal in California?


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Over the years, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to mean police officers must obtain a warrant before conducting a search. While warrantless arrests are presumptively invalid, there are several fairly large exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Perhaps the most common exception to the warrant requirement is that an officer can make a warrantless arrest, “if there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed.” This exception is the basis for most site arrests, where a police officer witnesses a crime, or has the victim of the crime identify the alleged offender, and arrests the suspect at the scene. A recent state appellate decision in a California robbery case illustrates how courts view warrantless arrests and how police officers try to get around the warrant requirement.

According to the court’s opinion, police were investigating a series of robberies that took place in 2012. During the investigation, the assigned officer reviewed surveillance video of several of the robberies. Four days after the most recent robbery, the officer was responding to a report of another robbery. The report indicated that the suspects were two black males, one taller than the other. The detective thought that these might be the men responsible for the robberies he was investigating.

As the officer arrived on the scene, he saw the two defendants crossing the street. He “immediately recognized” them as the two whom he saw on video committing the prior robberies. The officer noted that the physical description and clothing were similar to men in the video. The officer called for backup, and then arrested the men at gunpoint, recovering proceeds from the robbery that had just taken place. The officer later searched their car, finding a replica handgun and a ski mask.

The defendants filed a motion to suppress the officer’s statements that he “immediately recognized” the defendants. They argued that the statement was inadmissible hearsay. The court, however, rejected the defendant’s argument, determining that the officer’s statement was not being used by the prosecution to establish “proof of the matter asserted.” The court explained that the officer’s statement was admitted to show why the detective arrested the defendants, not that the defendants were, in fact, the men who committed the prior robberies. The court explained that out-of-court statements that may otherwise be considered hearsay are prohibited to the extent they are not used to establish the truth of the matter asserted. Because the officer’s testimony was not used that reason, the court held that it was properly admitted as evidence.

Have You Been Arrested for a California Crime?

If you or a loved one has recently been arrested for any California crime, contact the Law Offices of John W. Noonan. Attorney Noonan is a veteran criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling a wide range of cases, including California sex crimes, theft crimes, and drug offenses. Attorney Noonan offers prospective clients a free consultation to explain how he can help them defend their freedom against the charge they face. To learn more, call (925) 886-4281 to schedule a free consultation today.