When you are arrested, you can feel powerless and vulnerable, but it’s important to remember that you still have rights protected under the United States Constitution. Among these rights are the right to know why you have been arrested and what charges have been brought against you. In some cases, you may be detained before you are arrested. Knowing the difference between being detained and arrested can give you a better understanding of your situation and your options.
Stop versus arrest
If you are ever stopped by police, it is important to understand the difference between being stopped or detained and being arrested.
When you are stopped, you are questioned by the police, but you are not taken into custody. If a police officer detains you, they must have reasonable suspicion that you committed, were somehow involved in, or have information about a crime. You can be detained while the police officer is assessing the situation to determine whether or not there is probable cause for an arrest.
If you are arrested, the police must have probable cause to believe you committed a crime. The officer must explain the reason for your arrest and the specific charges being brought against you. If you don’t know the reason for your arrest, you can ask the police officer. Remember that although you have the right to ask what the reason for your arrest is, you also have the right to remain silent.
What about “stop and frisk”?
In the influential cases of Terry v. Ohio (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court held that police conduct a pat-down of someone’s outer clothing if they have reasons to believe the person is armed and dangerous. But a stop-and-frisk of this type is permissible only if it is “reasonably designed to discover guns, knives, clubs or other hidden instruments” that could be used to attack a police officer.
More recently, in the 2015 case of Rodriguez v. U.S., the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure means that a stop cannot continue for an excessive amount of time.