Mr. Jeffery W. Hart
Investigator, Morganfield Police Department
118 East Main Street
Morganfield, Kentucky 42437
You have asked us to interpret KRS 431.005(2), which authorizes warrantless arrests in
certain cases of domestic violence, e.g., spouse abuse, child abuse, parent abuse. Your questions,
as we under stand it, is whether the fact that the victim has fld from the scene (e.g., the dwelling
where the parties reside)( of the assault prevents the officer from making a warrantless arrest.
Our answer is that this fact is not necessarily decisive regarding the application of the warrantless
arrest statute, KRS 431.00592). Our discussion of this matter follows.
We note at the outset that the authority for warrantless arrests specified in KRS
431.005(2) is limited to "full-time" law enforcement officers by subsection (3) of that section.
KRS 431.005(2) states at present:
(2) Any peace officer may arrest without warrant when he has
probable cause to believe that if the person is not arrested he will
present a danger or threat of danger to others if not immediately
restrained and in addition he has probable cause for believing that
said person has intentionally or wantonly caused physical injury to
his spouse, former spouse, parent, grandparent, child, stepchild, or,
if said person is a party of an unmarried couple which has a child
in common, the other party of the couple. Within twelve (12) hours
following apprehension and booking of a person arrested under the
section, an officer shall return to the abused person, if the abused
person is an adult, and request that a signed, written statement be
made by the abused person stating that an abuse occurred and the
person who committed it. If the abused person refuses to sign the
statement, the charges shall be summarily dismissed and the
defendant released from custody.
KRS 431.005(2) has been amended by HB 115, Section 14 (1992 Regular Session) and
will state, effective July 14, 1992:
(2) (a) Any peace officer may arrest a person without warrant
when the peace officer has probable cause to believe that if the
person is not arrested the person will present a danger or threat of
danger to others if not immediately restrained and in addition the
peace officer has probable cause for believing that the person has
intentionally or wantonly caused physical injury to family member
or member of an unmarried couple.
(b) For the purposes of this subsection, the term "family member"
means a spouse, including a former spouse, a parent, a grandparent,
a child, a stepchild, or any other person related by consanguinity or
affinity within the second degree.
(c) For the purpose of this subsection, the term "member of an
unmarried couple" means each member of an unmarried couple
which allegedly has a child in common, any children of that
couple, or a member of an unmarried couple who are living
together or have formally lived together.
The 1992 amendment deleted the requirement that the officer obtain a signed statement
from the victim and expanded warrantless arrest authority to encompass members of unmarried
couples and any children of those members. Thus, we observe that the 1992 amendment does
not resolve your question.
Before addressing the statutory question, we will address the Constitutional standard for
an arrest. In Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37, 99 S.Ct. 2627, 61 L.Ed.2d 343, 349-350
(1979), the United States Supreme court defined "probable cause" for an arrest:
This Court repeatedly has explained that "probable cause" to
justify an arrest means facts and circumstances within the officer's
knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of
reasonable caution, in believing in the circumstances shown, that
the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an
Also see annotation, "What Constitutes Probable Cause for Arrest - Supreme Court
Cases," 28 L.Ed.2d 978, 984-986; Later Case Service, at 440. In Sampson v. Commonwealth,
Ky., 609 S.W.2d 355, 358-359 (1980), the Kentucky Supreme Court defined "probable cause":
The prior [to arrest] knowledge required by an officer is not such
as guarantees a conviction; it is such that make it probable, by the
use of any one or more of our five senses, that in the opinion of the
arresting officer the accused committed or was in the act of
committing a felony.
Also see Crawford v. Commonwealth, Ky., 824 S.W.2d 847, 849 (1992) (upholding warrantless
A warrantless arrest of a suspect in a private place may violate the Fourth Amendment if the police are not given permission to enter and exigent circumstances do not exist. Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594, 598, n. 6, 101 S.Ct. 2534, 2538, n.6, 69 L.Ed.2d. 262, 268, n. 6 (1981) (collecting cases). In Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 100, 110 S.Ct. Supreme Court noted that a warrantless arrest intrusion [into a private dwelling] may be justified by hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, or imminent destruction of evidence, or the need to prevent a suspect's escape, or the risk of danger to the police or to other persons inside or outside the dwelling."
(Citations omitted. Emphasis added.) Also see Todd v. Commonwealth, Ky., 716 S.W.2d 242,
248 (1986), noting that police may enter dwelling without consent or a warrant "when they
reasonably believe a person within is in need of immediate aid." Hence if the accused presents
an immediate risk of danger to the victim, the Fourth Amendment does not prevent his arrest
even without an arrest warrant or a search warrant.
As your letter notes, KRS 431.005(2) requires that the officer have probable cause to
believe that the accused has caused physical injury to his family member (e.g., spouse or former
spouse), or other person of an unmarried couple and that the accused "presents a danger or threat
of danger to others if not immediately restrained". (Emphasis added.) The fact that the victim (or
complaining witness) has fled to the dwelling of a third party or to a public building does not
necessarily mean that the accused no longer presents an immediate threat of danger. Assuming
that the accused has not followed the victim into the new location or building, the accused may
still intend to retaliate against the victim as soon as the opportunity presents itself. In such a
situation, the accused would still present a threat of danger if not immediately restrained by
Regardless of whether a warrantless arrest is made, the officer should attempt to
determine and document from the victim, any other witnesses, and any available physical
evidence whether a reasonable probability still exists that the accused presents an immediate
threat of danger to the victim. If the accused is available and willing to discuss the situation, the
officer should attempt to obtain a written or recorded statement from the accused.
Although a Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966),
warning is not necessarily required for an investigatory interview, the better practice is to give a
Miranda warning automatically when interviewing someone accused of a crime and to obtain a
voluntary waiver of these rights since in a case in which an arrest immediately follows the
interview the Court may have difficulty determining at what point the accused was "in custody",
i.e., not free to leave. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439-441, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3150-3151, 82 L.Ed.2d 317, 334-335 (1984) (some police questioning may precede arrest and
Miranda warnings; courts will occasionally have difficulty deciding when suspect was taken into
custody). Miranda requires, 384 U.S. at 479, 86 S.Ct. At 1630, 16 L.Ed.2d at 726, that the
accused be advised that "he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says right to the
presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him
prior to any questioning if he so desires" or a reasonably equivalent warning. See Duckworth v.
Eagan, 492 U.S. 195, 109 S.Ct. 2875, 106 L.Ed.2d 166 (1989) (alternative version of warning
To describe a different situation, if the accused has apparently desisted from the threat of
danger to the victim and victim's present location is apparently safe from attack, the decision to
seek promptly an arrest warrant and a domestic violence protective order pursuant to KRS
403.715 to 403.790 rather than undertake a warrantless arrest would be justified and appropriate.
Conversely, if the accused has fld from the scene of the attack and the officer determines that
there is probable cause to believe that the accused intentionally or wantonly caused physical
injury to the victim and still presents an immediate threat of danger, for example, because the
accused may return to the victim's dwelling or other location or because the accused may follow,
menace, stalk (see 1992 HB 445 amending KRS Chapter 508), or otherwise stay in the vicinity of
the victim; a warrantless arrest under KRS 431.005(2) would be justified. Again in this situation,
the officer should interview all available witnesses, record or document these interviews, and
collect all available physical evidence. In any case, should a warrantless arrest not appear
justified by probable cause, the officer should still promptly seek an arrest warrant and domestic
violence protective order to deter any possible future domestic violence.
In summary, we think the answer to the question must depend whether there is probable
cause that the accused, after the assault on the victim, still presents an immediate threat of danger
to the victim. If so, he should be immediately arrested for the appropriate degree of assault under
KRS Chapter 508 regardless of his location.
We note that the 1992 Regular Session of the General Assembly has enacted HB 115 and
SB 103, which expand authority for the district and circuit courts to issue domestic violence
protective orders and require that such orders be available on a 24 hour basis. Section 10 of HB
115 amends KRS 403.760 to require warrantless arrests upon probable cause for violation of a
protective order (new subsection (2) of that section). Therefore, our discussion regarding
warrantless arrests assumes that no protective order was in force at the time of the offense.
By: Ian G. Sonego
Assistant Attorney General