How Long Can the Police Detain Me?

Most people know what it means when the police make an arrest and take someone into their custody. When you’re arrested, you know that you are definitely not free to leave. 

However, there is a second type of police custody, and the question of when you’re free to go can sometimes be a little murky. Specifically, what happens when the police detain you? How long can they detain you without making an arrest? The answer isn’t always straightforward. 

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

Under the Fourth Amendment, which protects privacy rights, the police can’t conduct unreasonable searches and seizures. This amendment means that the police can’t simply stop a person on the street for no reason, nor can they hold an individual indefinitely without cause. 

Police have a right to make an arrest when they have a warrant supported by probable cause, or in cases in which there is an exception to the warrant rule.

Some common exceptions include cases in which the police make a traffic stop and see evidence of a crime in plain view. For example, if they view drugs on your vehicle’s front seat, they don’t need a warrant to arrest you. 

Police can also detain someone for purposes of determining if the person is involved in the commission of a crime. If in the course of the officer’s duties, they have a reasonable suspicion that someone is committing a crime or is about to commit a crime, the officer can temporarily stop the person to investigate without first obtaining a warrant.  

What Does It Mean When the Police Detain Someone?

When police officers detain someone, they have not yet made an arrest. However, when someone is detained by the police, they are not free to simply walk away. Police may detain people in a variety of situations.

One common example of detainment is when officers conduct sobriety checkpoints. In this scenario, the police may stop a person’s vehicle temporarily to determine if the person behind the wheel is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Police can also detain people on foot. For example, if the police receive a call from someone who claims their home has just been burglarized, and they respond to the scene, they will probably stop someone who is walking around the area dressed in dark clothes and carrying a huge sack over their shoulder. In this scenario, the police have a reasonable suspicion that the person might have been involved in the burglary. 

However, there are limits on how long the police can detain someone. Once the police have done the preliminary work they need to do to determine whether the potential suspect is involved in a crime, they can’t keep the person any longer. 

There are no definite rules when it comes to how long the police can detain someone. Generally, courts use a standard of reasonableness when they question the legality of a police stop. This reason is why courts look at these situations on a case by case basis. 

What to Do If the Police Detain You

Understandably, many people get nervous when they’re stopped by the police. While the police should tell you why they have stopped you, they might not always offer this information, even though they’re supposed to under the law.  

If you get stopped by the police, you have the right to ask them why they have stopped you. You can also ask them if you’re free to go. The police have an obligation to answer honestly, and they should tell you why you’re being detained.

If the police refuse to answer, or they keep you in their custody without probable cause, this is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. 

When the police detain someone without a valid reason, any evidence they collect, including statements you make, could be suppressed during a criminal trial. When evidence is suppressed, this means it can’t be considered as part of the prosecution’s case against you.

Any time you’re stopped by the police, including a traffic stop, it’s important to be polite and responsive. Even if you believe the police have stopped you without a valid reason, you should do your best to remain respectful. If the police ask you any questions, you should tell them your name and basic identifying information.

However, you don’t have to answer questions such as “where are you heading?” If the police pressure you to answer, you have every right to ask for a lawyer to be present. 

You can also ask why the police are stopping you and whether they believe you have been involved in a crime or suspected crime.

Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer 

If you believe the police detained you in an unlawful manner, you may be able to ask the court to suppress any evidence the police collected during the unlawful stop. Knowing when to use this defense is best determined by working with an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can answer your questions and help you determine the best steps to take in your case.  

Media Contact:

Attorney John Helms Criminal Defense Lawyer 

T: (214) 666-8010