A Brief Stop
A police officer can do one of two things to someone they suspect has committed or been involved in a crime. An officer may arrest or detain someone. Detainment is the momentary stopping of someone so an officer can identify him or her and ask some questions. An officer may do a computer search using your identifying information to check for any outstanding warrants. He or she may also check you non-invasively with a metal detector or drug-sniffing dog if the situation warrants it. Detainment is not the same as being arrested and taken into custody. An officer can detain anyone they wish to stop to identify and ask questions. A detainment doesn't necessarily lead to an arrest, but it can. An officer may arrest you if he or she finds probable cause to while you are detained. Just as not all arrests are lawful, not all detainments are as well. It is important to know what constitutes a lawful detainment because you have rights you may be able to exercise.
An officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain you. Reasonable suspicion simply means the officer reasonably suspected you of committing or being involved in a crime. Now, what is considered reasonable seems to be loosely defined. You may feel like an officer detained you without having any reason to suspect you, but this is a hard call to make in the moment. If the events leading up to the detainment and other contextual factors suggest you may have been involved in criminal activity, an officer may be justified in detaining you.
Suspicion vs. Good Cause
The standard of reasonable suspicion differs from the requirement of probable cause needed to arrest someone. This difference is important because your rights will change based on whether you are being detained or arrested. Reasonable suspicion can justify a detention, if brief, but is not enough to arrest you. An officer must have probable cause to arrest you and take you into custody. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. This includes arrests. Without having a reasonable basis on which to arrest you, the arrest would be unlawful.
Detainment is used when an officer wishes to hold a person in one place to have them identify themselves and explain their presence in the situation. If you are detained, you may be asked what your purpose in being in that place is and what you are doing. You may also be asked to identify yourself. If you are only being detained, you will not be put in cuffs or transported to another place, such as jail. If you comply with the officer's requests and he or she does not discover probable cause to arrest you, you will be free to go. A common instance where you may be detained is if you were on private property or appeared to be loitering. In these cases, an officer may ask you a few questions to figure out your purpose for being in the area. If you are legally permitted to be there, that may be the end of it. If you are not legally allowed on the premises, you may be asked to leave. A detainment will typically not last more than 20 minutes or so. Again, the point of a detainment is for an officer to identify who you are and what you are doing. Beyond these two objectives, an officer does not have the right to detain you. Unfortunately, some people are still unlawfully detained despite their rights.
It is important to know that both reasonable suspicion and probable cause are relatively flexible concepts. Thus, it can be hard for you to know whether or not an officer is lawfully detaining you. In light of this, it is never a good idea to assume you are not being lawfully detained and to resist detainment. You do not have the right to an attorney while being detained. This right is read along with your other Miranda Rights. Your Miranda Rights must be read if you have been arrested and you are going to be interrogated. You will not be read these rights if you are simply detained.
If you feel like you were not lawfully detained, whether or not it led to an arrest or criminal charges, speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney may be able to evaluate the facts and circumstance of the incident and advise you on whether or not your rights were violated. You may be able to take action if your rights were violated. If you were subsequently arrested or are facing criminal charges as a result of an unlawful detainment, an attorney may be able to help you defend your rights in court.
If you are facing criminal charges in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area, call experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can challenge the evidence against you and defend your dignity in court. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and will fight hard for your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.