What You Should Know If You're Being Detained By the Police

by LegalFix
Posted: July 18, 2023
reasonable suspicion

In any interaction you have with the police, it's important to understand your legal rights. One common situation in which you may not know what to do is when being detained by law enforcement. While other factors play a role in how things will go, knowing what being detained entails and your rights during this process can make a significant difference in the outcome. 

Can You Be Detained Without Committing a Crime?

The short answer is yes. Police officers can briefly detain a citizen if they have a reasonable suspicion that the individual has been involved in criminal conduct. Reasonable suspicion must be grounded in specific facts that the officer can articulate. A hunch or guesswork doesn't legally suffice. In the absence of any legitimate reason for officers to stop you, the detention could be considered unlawful, opening the door to potential civil claims. 

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures," including arrests without a warrant or probable cause. This can apply not only to your person, but to your home, vehicle, or any other property. 

The Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that an arrest can’t be made without a warrant; rather, that officers must be able to provide “probable cause" to believe a crime is being committed. This does mean, however, that if you believe that you or your property has been searched or detained without probable cause, you have the legal right to seek compensation from the agency responsible for detaining you. 

Habeas Corpus

Derived from Latin, the phrase habeas corpus literally means "you may have the body." In the American legal system, this Constitutional “Great Writ” is used by the courts to determine the legitimacy of a prisoner’s detention. Not only does this help prevent you from being detained without due process, but this pivotal legal instrument also serves as a safeguard against any unlawful or indefinite imprisonment. 

When a writ of habeas corpus is issued, it commands an individual's custodian — often a prison official — to bring the detainee before the court to examine the reasons for their detention. If the court finds the detainee is being held unlawfully, they have the authority to order the person's release. 

Clause II of habeas corpus allows for temporary suspension of this right when cases of “Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” But the landmark 2008 case of Boumediene v. Bush (Nos. 06-1195 and 06-1196) established that the writ applies even to non-Americans being detained by American authorities outside of the United States. 

Know Your Rights with LegalFix

Whether you want to understand your rights during detainment or just want to learn more about how our legal system operates, LegalFix is your source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and use the free search and information tools to better understand the state and federal laws that affect you. Just visit our website to find all this content — and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.