I hear police say they are detaining a suspect while putting them in handcuffs. What is the difference between detention and arrest?

It’s important to understand the differences between detention and an arrest because your rights change drastically from one to the other.

Anyone can be detained. The police only need reasonable suspicion to stop an individual. It is required by law that when an officer stops someone, the officer has either a search warrant, probable cause to search, or reasonable suspicion. The term reasonable suspicion refers to an officer having objectively reasonable circumstances to suspect that a detained individual is involved in, or about to be involved in a crime. A 20-minute detainment is considered a reasonable timeframe for detaining someone according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When people are detained, it is typically for questioning about a person’s identification and purpose for being in the location. While being held, a person may be subject to a ‘patdown’ search if the police have reasonable suspicion that a person may be dangerous. While this does not mean police can immediately search pockets of bags without permission, however, if an officer comes across a weapon they may seize it to protect themselves.

Use of a metal detector, a drug-sniffing dog, or a computer search to determine if the individual has any outstanding warrants for their arrest there are other legal methods of searching during detention.

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