Detained Vs Arrested: What is the Difference

Let’s understand detained vs arrested with an example

Imagine you’re at home with a friend watching a cop show. A character is driving in their car, and they swerve; the cop pulls them over, thinking they’ve been drinking. The cop gets the person’s license and registration. After a tense moment of waiting, he returns with a second officer. They ask the driver to get out of the vehicle. 

You say to your friend, “they’re just gonna arrest him just like that?”

Your friend replies, “I think they’re just detaining him.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” you say.

If you’re looking for the answer to that question, you’re in the right place. Many Americans confuse the terms. It’s easy to understand why when often television and movies use them interchangeably.

In the eyes of the law, they are not the same thing. As a citizen, you must know your rights and how the arrest process happens. Knowing the difference between being detained vs arrested is imperative.

If you’ve been accused of a crime in Bakersfield, it’s important to understand the legal process and have a competent attorney by your side. Give us a call for free consultation (661) 864-5814.

What Does It Mean To Be Detained? 

Detained vs Arrested

When do things cross the line from having a conversation with the police to being in police custody? Being detained or detention happens when the police hold someone under “a reasonable suspicion,” but that person has not been charged with a crime. A reasonable suspicion means the officer has some information that is leading them to believe you have committed or are about to commit a crime.

 The fact that an officer has to keep you under “a reasonable suspicion” before detaining you is crucial to understand. If the officer does not have a reason to think you have committed a crime, they should not detain you.

When you are detained, it does not mean that the police are charging you with a crime. Detention means that the police are holding you while investigating if a crime is being committed. Or while determining if there is evidence of a crime about to be executed. 

If you’ve ever been pulled over by a cop for speeding while waiting for the officer to tell you if you’ve gotten a ticket or are free to go, you are technically detained. The officer probably isn’t planning to arrest you at the moment. He will write you a ticket for speeding and send you on your way. 

The reasonable suspicion he had for pulling you over was that you were speeding. If he finds additional information while running your license, like, for instance, the car you’re driving is reported stolen, then the cop would have probable cause that could lead to him coming back and arresting you. 

In this scenario, if you were to drive away before the cop could come back, you would be committing a crime. While detained, you can only leave once the officer releases you. The time you are detained should only be long enough for the police to determine the next steps. When the police finish detaining you, it will end in either a ticket, a release, or an arrest.

How Will I Know I’m Under Arrest? 

We’ve discussed that detainment is used while the police investigate if an arrest needs to be made. If the police have determined you need to be arrested, how will you know? The primary and most popular way you will know you are under arrest is the police will read you your Miranda Rights

Reading Miranda Rights upon arrest came into practice after a famous case where a man was convicted of a crime due to a confession he made during a police investigation. The man, Ernesto Miranda, confessed after hours of inquiry. However, Miranda did not know he had the right to remain silent, as well as the right to an attorney. After this, Miranda Rights became required for police to read before or during an arrest. 

Miranda Rights are often referenced in fictional depictions of police and lawyers in crime shows and movies. Usually, for dramatic effect, an officer will forget to read a person their Miranda Rights and enable them to get off free. While this does make for great storytelling most officers will not make this mistake. However, if they do forget, remember you do have the right to remain silent and you can exercise that right starting from detainment, but we’ll discuss that later.

Another way you’ll know you’re under arrest is that the police will take any of your belongings or evidence with them. The police can only arrest you when they have sufficient proof that you’ve committed a crime or other credible information that would institute an arrest. 

In the scenario discussed earlier, let’s assume the officer saw the car you were driving is reported stolen. The officer would then have probable cause to read you your rights and arrest you. Most legal authorities suggest you invoke your right to remain silent during that time. This right is available to you even while you are detained. 

During detainment, basic questions like your name should be answered but any leading or in-depth questions should be answered with a lawyer present. It is often in your best interest to remain silent as anything said, even during detainment, can be used as evidence against you.

It is also important to understand that once you are arrested, your rights are restricted. Even though you are innocent until proven guilty, while you are under arrest you will not be entitled to the same rights as usual. 

You will not be free to leave until bail is set or another decision is made. As we discussed your belongings will be taken from you. You will also be limited on how many calls you can make and other communication with the outside world while under arrest. This is why a lawyer is so important. Your lawyer is not only your connection to the outside world at this time but also the person who can explain and advise you on what to do moving forward. Picking a trustworthy and understanding lawyer can make all the difference.

Detained Vs Arrested: The Big Differences

When you compare being detained vs arrested, the lines between the terms can be easily blurred. These fundamental differences and everything else we’ve discussed will help keep things clear. One massive difference between detained and arrested is that an arrest goes on your criminal record even if you are not convicted of a crime. Being detained doesn’t mean you’ll have anything added to your record. 

If you’re not sure if you’re being detained or arrested, asking the officer outright if you are being detained or arrested can help. Another way people ask this less directly is: “am I free to go?” If you are being detained, you are usually free to go once the police finish their investigation. While being detained, if you’re unsure if the police have completed their search, asking if you’re free to go will also help determine if they are finished or will arrest you. 

As we discussed earlier, your right to remain silent exists whether you’re being detained, arrested, or just having a casual conversation with a police officer. Be thoughtful about what you say, as speaking without a lawyer can get you in over your head.

Why Is It Essential To Have a Lawyer? 

When you’re in a situation where you are being interrogated by law enforcement or have been charged with a criminal offense, it is in your best interest to have someone with you who not only understands how the law works but has your best interest at heart. 

Being in a situation where you are detained or arrested can be incredibly scary no matter the differences between the two. When you are in those situations, it is imperative that you have a counselor to guide you on the best decisions and next moves as well as keep the police accountable.

We can’t all know the ins and outs of the judicial system but armed with the knowledge of how the arrest process begins, paired with the understanding of the need to remain silent until a lawyer is present, you can protect yourself during an arrest. 

Contact Garret T. Rice for Help

If you are in or near Bakersfield, California, and looking for legal counsel, contact Garret T. Rice for help. We practice in over ten unique areas, including but not limited to theft, domestic violence, and juvenile crime, to name just a few. 

This means that our team at Garret T. Rice has an understanding of very different and nuanced crimes and legal events preparing us for anything that comes our way.

With over 40 cases and over ten years of experience in multiple areas of legality, Rice is a lawyer that fights for the people. He helps good people through bad times. 

Knowledge is power and if you don’t have the knowledge yourself, outsourcing to creditable and intelligent lawyers is the only way to make sure you are protected when it comes to an arrest. 


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