What's the Difference Between a Summons and an Arrest?
A summons is one way police get cases to the court system.
Readers of Grafton Patch may notice the word "summons" included alongside charges in the Grafton police log.
In fact, we've received a handful of emails over the last couple of years from people who argue that they were "summonsed," not arrested, and therefore should be omitted from the log.
A summons is not an arrest. But the end result is often the same, and we include both summonses and arrests in our log, to be fair. So, let us clarify the difference between a summons and an arrest, and the reasons police might use one over the other when looking to charge a suspect.
"There are certain cases for which the law only allows us to file a criminal complaint," Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr. said, referring to the process by which police use a summons to bring a suspect to court.
An example of this is if police pull over someone who is driving an uninsured vehicle: state law does not permit them to arrest the person, but they may issue a criminal complaint.
This complaint is filed with the local court, which then, upon determining there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, issued a "summons," to the person to appear for arraignment. Police do not issue summonses; courts do.
When people are arrested, they are taken straight into custody. Crimes that require police to make an arrest include restraining order violations and domestic violence charges.
Many offenses allow discretion. Police may choose to either arrest or seek a summons for suspects in certain cases. Police often arrest for felonies. It's not always necessary to take people into custody, particularly if officers have strong reason to believe there isn't a threat of them fleeing.
A common misconception is that a summons is less serious than an arrest; this is not the case. Often, rape charges that are reported years after the fact are pursued through a summons, and police will seek to have the person summonsed to court rather than taking him or her into custody because the charges do not pose an immediate threat to the public.