Inspired in part by this question: if a person is committing crimes of increasing severity, are law enforcement personnel obliged to apprehend them at the earliest opportunity? Specifically, are they obliged to prevent a crime at the stage where it is a conspiracy, or attempt, to commit it?

If so, in what circumstances?

For the sake of simplicity, let's consider only US cases.

1 Answer 1


The circuits all over the place on this one but in short, no, police are not obliged to apprehend a suspect at the earliest opportunity.

It is within the discretion of the police to decide whether delaying the arrest of the suspect will help ensnare co-conspirators, as exemplified by this case, will give the police greater understanding of the nature of the criminal enterprise, or merely will allow the suspect enough "rope to hang himself."

U.S. V. Garcia 79 F.3d 74 (7th Cir. 1996)

See also Hoffa v. United States 385 U.S. 293 (1966)

A suspect has no constitutional right to be arrested when the police have probable cause.

The police are not required to guess, at their peril, the precise moment at which they have probable cause to arrest a suspect, risking a violation of the Fourth Amendment if they act too soon, and a violation of the Sixth Amendment if they wait too long. Law enforcement officers are under no constitutional duty to call a halt to a criminal investigation the moment they have the minimum evidence to establish probable cause, a quantum of evidence which may fall far short of the amount necessary to support a criminal conviction.

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