Know the Difference between Arrest & Detention

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedDec 4, 2020
1 minute read

Detention versus arrest?

Consider this scenario: You’re driving down the interstate when you notice blue lights in your rearview mirror. You pull off the road, and as the police officer approaches your vehicle, he asks you to get out of your car, then proceeds to question you. The officer asks you to stay put as she walks back to her patrol car. Are you being detained? Are you free to go? Are you about to be arrested?

Criminal Law Attorney wants you to know the difference between detention and arrest.

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If someone asked you to tell them the difference between detention and arrest, do you think you could accurately tell them?

Detention Versus Arrest


It’s considered an arrest when your freedom of movement is restricted to the degree associated with what would be called a formal arrest.

When the legality of an arrest is challenged, the court will weigh the following:

  • How many officers were standing around you?
  • Were you in handcuffs?
  • Were you placed in the back of a police car?

If so, you can deem that an arrest.


Think of detention this way: A law enforcement officer contacts you because he or she has reasonable suspicion you’re part of a crime.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you were pulled over for speeding, and then the office thinks they smell alcohol, either on you or in your car. They’ll say, “Sir, will you step out of the car?”

This scenario is not arrest, rather it’s a detention.

When you are detained, you are not free to go. However, at this point, you have not been arrested.

Now, if the officer says, “Sir, turn around,” and he places handcuffs on you, it’s safe to say you’re being arrested.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

Call 303-688-0944 to arrange a case assessment or click here to schedule your appointment.

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