Elements of an Arrest

By Wadia Whalen - Updated June 05, 2017
Man in handcuffs

In legal terms, an arrest refers to the lawful deprivation of the freedom of an individual by a peace officer. Although some arrests are conducted after an arrest warrant, an authorization for detainment issued by the state, has been obtained, it isn’t required. A police officer, or other authorized law enforcement officer, may arrest a person if he reasonably believes a crime has been committed without a warrant. There are four elements to an arrest: intent, authority, subjection and understanding.


The intent of an officer to arrest an individual can be transmitted verbally or with her actions. This is important because the absence of intent means there can be no arrest. Since intent formed in the mind may not be expressed verbally, when there is a dispute the deciding factor is whether a reasonable person would think he was arrested.


State laws authorize police officers to detain and place citizens into custody. The authority to arrest varies from state to state, and some officers can make an arrest anytime they witness a crime, while others may perform an arrest only while on duty.


Subjection to an arrest happens when the arrestee submits or is forced into detainment by the officer by an actual or constructive seizure. An actual seizure involves a physical element, be it hands or firearms, during the detainment. Constructive seizure occurs when the arrestee voluntarily submits to the detainment, such as entering a police station to surrender himself.


An arrest is invalid If the arrestee does not understand that she is being arrested. Most often the police officer will state that an arrest is occurring, but in some instances actions alone are sufficient. In cases where the arrestee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, unconscious or insane, understanding is not a necessary element of the arrest.

About the Author

Wadia Whalen has been writing professionally since 2000. Her work has appeared in "WV South" and "Et Cetera," as well as in various online publications. Whalen has won several awards for her short stories, including the Wallace C. Knight Honors in Writing Award. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Marshall University.

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