Can I be charged with a crime without being arrested?

Citations are increasingly being used, as jail space gets scarce.

By , J.D. UCLA School of Law
Updated 5/08/2024


Can I be charged with a crime without being arrested?


An alternative procedure to arrests—called "citation"—exists in most states. In place of arresting people for traffic offenses (like speeding) and minor misdemeanors (such as shoplifting), officers can issue citations. A citation is a notice to appear in court. By signing the citation, a person promises to appear in court on or before the date specified in the notice in exchange for remaining at liberty.

In some urban areas, officers are increasingly using citations due to the overcrowding of the jails. In some cases, jails are subject to court orders limiting the number of inmates they can hold. Because of this, many police departments instruct their officers to issue citations to suspects who in the past would have been arrested. One unfortunate by-product of this is that some suspects who might benefit from going to jail and "cooling off" remain free, and thus may pose a danger to themselves and to the persons (such as domestic violence victims) who called the police. A person who has received a citation in lieu of an arrest will be able to answer "No" if asked about an arrest record.

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