Arrest Versus Detention: Know Where Your Case Stands


To ascertain whether the police violated your rights during a stop, you first have to determine whether you were under arrest or detention. If the issue of arrest vs. detention comes up in court, the following are some of the factors the judge may use to decide your case.

Number of Officers Involved

An arrest typically involves more officers than detention. For example, an officer may stop and ask you to identify yourself if you loiter in a dangerous part of town. However, if the authorities have probable cause and decide to arrest you, then the police department will send several officers for the task.

Note that exceptional cases exist where several officers can detain you and one police officer can also arrest you. The number of officers on the scene is not a determinant factor.

Force the Officers Used

The court will also consider the amount of force the officers used to detain you and whether they needed to use that degree of force. The more force the officers used, the more likely you were under arrest. Also, if police officers have to use force to detain you, then the officers are also likely to arrest you. The degree of force is a subjective measure that only the court can gauge.

Involvement of Arms

The police are unlikely to let you go free if they find you with an illegal weapon after a stop. Your arrest is even more likely if the police suspect that you used the weapon in a crime. In such a case, the police will seize the weapon as evidence and put you under arrest. Therefore, if you had a weapon during the stop, the court is likely to rule that you were under arrest.

Duration of the Stop

The more the police held you, the more you were likely under arrest. When the police want to question or identify you, they won't take up much of your time since those two tasks don't require that much time. However, if the police suspect you of a crime, they can arrest you as they investigate the crime further.

For example, you were likely under arrest if the police had you for the whole day or so. However, your stop was likely detention if the police only questioned you for 30 minutes or so.

Physical Actions of the Officers

When police officers arrest a criminal suspect, the officers typically restrain the suspect physically, for example, with the aid of handcuffs. Therefore, you were probably under arrest if the police officers handcuffed you, physically held you, or bundled you into the back of a squad car.

However, the police probably detained you if they only asked you to stop, talked to you for a few minutes, and let you go. The court will determine whether the period of your stop qualifies as detention or arrest.

Location of the Detention

Lastly, the location of the stop may also determine whether you were under arrest or not. In most cases, the police won't transport you from one location to another if you are merely under detention. For example, the police may just talk to you on the street or in their car and let you go. However, your detention is likely to morph into an arrest if the police take you to the station.

Multiple factors determine whether you are under arrest or mere detention when the police stop you. Many of these factors are subjective, and people interpret them in different ways. However, Simms & Associates have the legal skills and experience to advise you on this and other criminal cases. Contact us with any question you have on criminal rights.

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