Confusion seems to rein in some crime books on whether the offender is under arrest or if they’ve been charged. I think this is because crime novelists are voracious readers and watchers of crime fiction and read and watch both UK and US versions as well as other great books and shows. This, I believe is where the confusion comes from. Because the UK and US do things differently.
In the US you must have enough evidence in the first place to hold someone, to stop them walking out the police station, whereas here, in the UK, you can have reasonable suspicion for an arrest and once arrested you can keep a suspect detained while you question them.
Let’s look at the UK way of working arrests and charges.
To make an arrest in the UK the police need reasonable grounds. That is, reasonable to any lay person that the information the police officer has that has led them to this person.
For instance, Mrs Bloggs at the corner shop saw Fred Jones running away from the scene where Vera Hayes lay on the floor after a mugging as soon as she’d screamed (and she’s now dead after being hit on the head) and there was not another soul on the street. You’d think that was reasonable.
So, we have reasonable grounds to arrest Fred Jones because we want to question him. Obviously, we will be doing all the other things that go on in a police inquiry, like forensics, house to house, etc. But this scenario is for the sake of showing an arrest and charge situation.
We have 24 hours to detain and question Mr Jones. If we are not satisfied with what we have at that point and we are still waiting on some forensics, then we can ask a superintendent for an extension (one who is not connected with the case). This extension is 12 hours. After that, if we want a further extension for detention, we need to apply to a court which can grant us a further period of time which may not exceed 36 hours. So, in total it’s possible to detain someone under arrest for 72 hours.
After that you have to release, bail or charge.
If we decide we have enough evidence and the CPS have authorised it (you have to have charges authorised by a CPS lawyer) we can charge the offender. Time may have allowed forensic evidence to come back from Vera Hayes or more eye witnesses to come forward. Charge means we are charging the offender to court. So, we are charging them with an offence, in this case, I’d imagine, Manslaughter, to court. When you charge someone you actually say the words to them as you do when you caution them. And you caution them again and make note of anything they say after charge. There’s a post HERE about the difference in the charging caution.
Once we have done that, we will either bail the offender or keep them until the next available court. In Blogg’s case, we will be keeping him.
I hope you found this helpful.
This is a UK policing series. There are different processes for other police forces around the world.
You can find the other posts in this series HERE.
If there are any questions you would like to see addressed in this series, let me know in the comments.
Rebecca Bradley is a retired UK police detective and now a crime writer.
She writes the DI Hannah Robbins series.
When catching a killer isn’t enough…
The naked, battered body of an unidentified teenager is found dumped in an alleyway and post-mortem finds evidence of a harrowing series of events.
Another teenage death with the same MO pushes DI Hannah Robbins and her team in the Nottingham City division Major Crimes Unit, to their limits, and across county borders. In a race against the clock, they attempt to unpick a thick web of lies and deceit to uncover the truth behind the deaths.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Just how far are the team willing to push themselves to save the next girl?
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
So in the US, they can bring someone in for questioning but if there’s not enough evidence, that person can just leave at any time? Your way sounds smarter.
Rebecca Bradley says
It looks that way, Alex. It must be so frustrating for the cops. They need more evidence before they can progress, than we do here.
Margot Kinberg says
Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing how the arrest/charge process works. It’s interesting to see how it’s done in different places. What I find especially fascinating is the balance that has to be struck between respecting the suspect’s rights, and getting on with solving a case. It’s a very difficult balance.
Rebecca Bradley says
It is, Margot and in France that do it differently still. It’s fascinating really.