Arrest Process in DC Criminal Cases

Although it may seem straightforward, the arrest process for many can be a source of anxiety and frustration. As a result, the following is information on what you should expect if arrested and what mistakes you should avoid to keep a situation from getting worse. For further information on what to expect from the arrest process in DC, you should call and schedule a consultation with a DC criminal lawyer today.

Expectations for the Arrest Process

If someone is arrested in Washington, DC, they will be taken to a police station where the police will gather their personal information. The police will then check their system to see if the individual has an active warrant for their arrest or if they are wanted for something. The police will then take the individual’s fingerprints and picture, and also search for the person under any other aliases that they may go by.

Once an individual is arrested and processed at a police station, one of two things may happen.

  • The person may be released from the station with a citation to appear back in court.
  • The person could be held in custody and taken to court the next business day to appear before a judge. This judge will then determine whether the individual will continue to stay in custody or if they will be released under prescribed release conditions set by the court.


If a person has been indicted, they will either be issued a summons requesting that they appear in court or have an arrest warrant issued by a court, directing law enforcement to find and arrest them. In DC, indictments almost always occur during the criminal process, after a person has already been arrested and brought to court and a complaint has been filed. If the charge is for a felony, then the government will need to secure an indictment against the charged individual to be able to proceed with the felony case.

In cases where someone is indicted first, that individual is already in the court system. Therefore, an arraignment date is set after the indictment has occurred, and notification calling the individual to appear at the arraignment court date will be sent out or an arrest warrant is issued for the law enforcement to arrest the charged individual and bring them to court to be arraigned on the charges.

In very rare circumstances there may be a case where the grand jury has indicted someone who has not been brought to court on that matter and thus there is no ongoing case. Whether a summons is sent out or an arrest warrant is issued depends upon the particular circumstances of the case. A defendant should discuss this with his attorney prior to an indictment.

Surrendering to the Police

A person can surrender themselves, particularly if it is a situation where an arrest warrant has been issued. If a person has a lawyer who has been speaking with police in a situation where an arrest warrant is issued, then the attorney would coordinate with law enforcement and the client to arrange for a self-surrender.

In certain rare circumstances, an individual and police may arrange for a self-surrender without an attorney talking to police. However, if the opportunity arises, a self-surrender is always preferable to being arrested by the police without any prior notification where the police will come to someone’s home, their place of work, or grab them off the street when they are not prepared. If a person knows there is an arrest warrant out for them, it is best to immediately contact an attorney and have the attorney arrange for a self-surrender.

Mistakes to Avoid During the Arrest Process

One common mistake many people make during the arrest process is answering police questions, beyond basic information such as their name and address. In certain circumstances even information like a person’s address may be inappropriate to give, if for example, it is connected to some alleged criminal activity. However, answering any questions that may have to do with the case or allegation should be avoided, such as what they were doing or what their involvement was. A person should invoke their right to counsel as early as they can. A person can easily do so by stating something like, “I would rather talk to an attorney before answering any questions.” A person has to make sure that they make this clear.

Things to Avoid Saying or Doing In front of Police

A person must be mindful not to say anything incriminating in the presence of police. Be aware that the police will always write down anything a person says so that it may later be used against them. They are going to make notes of anything and everything they can that helps the case against a person. Therefore, a person should not engage in any activity or make any kind of incriminating conversation in the presence of police.

Criminal Charges

A person is not charged when they are arrested. After an arrest, the police will write up a report and fill out necessary paperwork that is then submitted to the prosecutorial agency. In DC, that will either be the United States Attorney’s Office or the Office of the Attorney General, depending on the proposed charges.

A person is officially charged when the prosecutorial agency files a complaint against them with the court, alleging that they have committed a violation of a criminal statute. The prosecutor will make a decision as to whether to file charges at all, and if so, what charges to file. If a person has been released by the police with the citation to appear at a later date, they will usually find out if and of what they are charged on the morning of the court date.

Court Date

A person’s initial court date is their arraignment. During a person’s arraignment, they will be informed on the record of the charges that have been brought against them by the prosecutor. If a person is held in police custody, the prosecutors must make a charging decision faster because the charges against them must be filed prior to the court appearance. If a person is going to be in court the next business day, they must act quickly or they will have to be released.

If they do file the charges in time, then they will be informed of those charges when they appear in court. A person should not feel that they have to face a court date alone, contact a DC criminal lawyer today.

Arrest Process in DC Criminal Cases