Criminal Defense Attorney Rahul Balaram Answers, What is the Difference Between Detention and Arrest?

    It can be frightening enough if you are walking down the street when a police officer decides to stop you and asks you a series of questions. Generally, one may stop and ask themselves, “Am I required to stand here and comply with what enforcement is asking of me? Or am I allowed to walk away?” The challenge in those moments is understanding if the situation is simply a detainment or an actual arrest. Many people may be concerned with what their rights are and what they can and cannot do in those instances. Here, criminal defense attorney Rahul Balaram explains the difference between detention and arrest.


    The simplest definition of a detention would be the act of a police officer stopping someone to ask a series of questions. For example, a police officer may stop someone on the street if they are acting unusual or may pull someone over on the road if they have violated a traffic order or there is an issue with their vehicle. The individual in question is not free to leave the scene until they have answered the officer’s questions and determined there is no further probable cause to pursue.


    An arrest goes further than a detainment as at that point the individual is not free to leave and is taken into custody by enforcement for further questioning. Generally speaking, an arrest will involve restricting movement of the suspect through handcuffs or some sort of restraint. Law enforcement will also inform the suspect that they are under arrest. An arrest may result in being transported from the scene of questioning to a local precinct.

    There are several other definitions to differentiate between a detention and an arrest. Detentions are meant to be informative or investigative and are generally considered to be brief in nature. The detainment must be short and not longer than appropriate to determine if there is further probable cause to proceed with an arrest.  Some legal opinions suggest that brief in nature can be defined as approximately 20 minutes. An individual in question must feel comfortable and able to leave after they are finished complying and answering the questions of enforcement. If they don’t feel as if they are free to leave the scene, then it may be an arrest instead. Questions within a detention usually are to determine the purpose of why an individual is present in the location they are currently at and to identify who they are.

    Other ways to determine if a situation has progressed from a detainment to an arrest is if law enforcement deems it appropriate to use force against the individual in questioning. If the situation warrants for use of force to contain or restrain an individual, or more than one officer needs to be involved, the situation may lead to an arrest. If officers believe the suspect is armed in any capacity, it may automatically lead to an arrest. Another difference is that arrest implies that the suspect has been charged with a crime, whereas a detention does not mean that a formal charge has been formed.

    About Rahul Balaram:

    Rahul Balaram has led an impressive career as a defense attorney. Before opening his own firm, Mr. Balaram worked as a Deputy Public Defender, representing indigent citizens accused of criminal conduct.

    Rahul has recently opened the Balaram Law Office in Santa Rosa. His excellent communication with his clients relieves their anxiety about the court system and lessens their confusion and frustration about court cases they may be facing. He is available for consultation by phone and text 24/7. He ensures that his clients are represented with dignity, compassion, and competence to the court and juries.