Forgive me if this seems like an asinine question, and please feel free to be as pedantic as possible if answering. I'm working on data modeling a piece of software and it's relevant to my data structure design. I appreciate any insight that can be offered.

I am of the opinion that the charge(s) must exist before an arrest is made, i.e. one must be charged (by the police, or by another agency with the authority to make arrests) with something before they can be arrested, i.e. one is arrested on charges. I also realize that the charges can and do sometimes change (or disappear, for that matter) after the arrest, but for my purposes that is irrelevant. I am strictly concerned with the circumstances leading to an arrest and jail.

The question also extends to summons and warrants. Charges must exist before one can be summoned or a warrant for the arrest issued.

Am I looking at this the right way?

Thanks in advance to anyone willing to take a few minutes to help me sort this out.

  • Try watching any police drama set in the UK or the US. When making an arrest the cop always says "You are under arrest on suspicion of ...". Then later in the episode the arrested guy's lawyer says to the police something like "As you know, you can only hold him without charges for 3 days". So arrest definitely comes before charges. And a warrant normally comes before charges too: the police arrest someone on suspicion of something, get a warrant to go into their house and gather evidence, and then they have enough evidence to actually charge the person.
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 11:24
  • @AndyT in the US they tend to say "under arrest for ...."
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 14:30
  • @phoog - Hmm. My comment must only apply to the UK then. My memory must have conflated all the cop shows (both real action and dramas) from the UK and the US.
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 14:40
  • 1
    @AndyT not sure how the UK does it, but in the U.S. you can definitely be indicted before your arrest.
    – cpast
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 15:01
  • (US) If there's an arrest warrant, then i'm pretty sure that means charges have been filed. You can't get an arrest warrant "just because". :)
    – cHao
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


It can go either way. If detectives have been working to build a big conspiracy case against you, they might get charges filed before they roll up to arrest you. If a cop catches you mugging someone, they'll arrest you on the spot and charge you later.


Different jurisdictions have different rules on this, as well as different concepts such as "detained without charge" and "assisting the police with their enquiries". However, just to give one example, in England and Wales s.24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act explicitly permits arrest without warrant (and hence without charges) in some circumstances. Habeas corpus restricts the right to detention without charge: in Britain the police usually have 24 hours after arrest to either charge you (with the consent of the CPS) or release you without charge, in which case the arrest need not be revealed on employment applications, for example.


Incorrect. A warrant may be issued for a search of your apartment based on reasonable suspicion by the police that a crime has been taking place there. This could be, for example, from their observing you and an informant they believe to be giving them proper information.

They take that info to the judge and the judge approves the warrant. They come, they search, they find all of the drugs, and then arrest you. You have not been charged with a single thing yet. In fact, depending on the timing (weekend?), you may be released and have to report back or you may be detained until your arraignment which occurs before a judge. At the arraignment is when you are charged.

  • I just now saw your comment limiting your question to arrest warrants, but that doesn’t change the answer. You may have a warrant out for your arrest while not having been charged with anything. You’ll be charged once you are brought before the court.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 11:31

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