What is the purpose of H.B. 59? by Rep. Stephen Handy

Today, H.B. 59 is being considered by the House Judiciary Committee. The purpose H.B. 59 Arrests and Requirements With or Without Warrants is to allow for police officers to perform their duties in pursuing arrests for criminal activity that did not occur in their presence. This may sound alarming . However, there are many instances in which we allow police to pursue arrests in this manner. H.B. 59 will bring us back to the Constitution.

For example, a 16 year old enters a store and walks out of the store with a number of clothing items that she did not purchase. The police did not actually see her steal the items. However, the store owner may call the police, provide them with a description, and the police can pursue the shoplifter because they have probable cause.

Another example: a man and a woman have a domestic dispute and the man leaves the scene before the police arrive. Although the crime did not occur in the peace officer’s presence, it is apparent by the appearance of the wife that domestic violence has occurred. The police officer therefore has probable cause to believe that the husband committed a crime and can still pursue an arrest for the misdemeanor offense.

One final example: a vehicle operator hits another vehicle on the highway and speeds off. The police arrive on the scene and the victim describes the vehicle. The police use the description to find the offender and charge him or her with a hit and run, without actually witnessing the crime. The damage to the victim’s car and the victim’s testimony provides the police with probable cause to pursue the offender, even though the crime did not occur in the officer’s presence.

The purpose of this bill is to clarify in law what is already being done by police officers in this state and across the country. Under the current law, it is unclear as to the ability of a police officer to arrest someone who committed a misdemeanor offense without witnessing it. The police will still be required to satisfy probable cause before arresting and charging someone for a crime. Without the passage of this bill, the police would not be able to respond to situations like those enumerated above.

Victim’s rights groups and the Attorney General are proponents of this bill because it protects the rights of victims. This bill will merely clarify the code, not enable police to limit the rights of individuals. Probable cause will still be the ruling principle that will govern police officers in pursuing criminals. I am not a proponent of limiting the rights of the accused. I simply hope to aid police officers in performing their duty to protect the victims of crimes.