United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411 (1976)
Watson was suspected of possessing stolen credit cards. An informant met Watson at a restaurant to purchase the stolen credit cards. Watson was arrested without a warrant, and two stolen credit cards were found in his car pursuant to a consensual search.
At trial, Watson moved to suppress the credit cards claiming his warrantless arrest was illegal; the motion was denied and Watson was convicted.
Does the Fourth Amendment require a police officer to obtain a warrant before making a felony arrest in public on the basis of probable cause? The Court first looked to the Constitution and noted that nothing in the Fourth Amendment expressly required the police to obtain a warrant before making a felony arrest.
The Court subsequently weighed the costs of requiring Arrest Warrants against the benefits of such a requirement and concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits. The reasoning for the decision was based on a theory that warrant requirements would result in excessive litigation over whether exigent circumstances existed at the time of arrest, whether the suspect was a flight risk, or whether obtaining a warrant under the circumstances was practicable. Therefore, Watson’s warrantless arrest did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The effect of the Watson decision is still felt today, because police officers are free to arrest for felony offenses in public on the basis of probable cause without a warrant. However, the Court recommended that, when practicable, officers might want to obtain a warrant to dissolve any doubts regarding the probable cause surrounding the arrest.
STEPHEN L. SARAZIN
References and Further Reading
- LaFave, Wayne, Jerold Israel, and Nancy King. Criminal Procedure. 4th ed., St. Paul, MN: West, 2004, p. 344.
- Saltzburg, Stephen, nd Donald Capra. Constitutional Criminal Procedure. 7th ed., St. Paul, MN: West, 2004, p. 720.
Cases and Statutes Cited
- Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217 (1960)
- Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S 590 (1975)
- Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925)
- Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307 (1959)
- Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975)
- Kurtz v. Moffitt, 115 U.S. 487 (1885)
- Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1973)
- United States v. DiRe, 332 U.S. 581 (1948)
See also Arrest; Arrest Warrants; Arrest without a Warrant; Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925); Gernstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975); Probable Cause; Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1973)