While everyone knows the police are allowed to arrest a suspect in a case, a question they often still have is “How long can police detain me if they are not arresting me?”

The Constitution guarantees under the 4th Amendment that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This is due to the fact that a person has, as part of his rights as a United States citizen, a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion.

However, if a police officer has a warrant for your arrest or, even without that, a valid reason based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, then they are allowed to arrest you. And additionally, a police officer in the course of performing his duty can detain a person temporarily in order to ask questions or to investigate a crime. This detainment, and the questions the police officer asks the suspect being detained, may or may not lead to an arrest. But how long can police detain you without charging you?


Police Detainment


In the course of performing their public duty, police officers in the United States interact with criminals, as well as law-abiding members of the public alike. Oftentimes, in order for a police officer to actually catch a criminal or detain a suspect in a crime, they must conduct a thorough investigation and talk to and question members of the public (eyewitnesses, relatives, passersby, and the like) to figure out what actually happened. Because of this, in order to effectively do their jobs, police officers can and often do temporarily detain people in order to investigate the matter further and question them.

A detainment happens whenever a police officer uses enough force or a show of authority that a reasonable person would believe that they are not free to leave, including at a checkpoint. Generally, a police detainment that does not result in an arrest takes approximately from around fifteen to twenty minutes before the person being detained is allowed to leave. However, this time limit may vary on a case by case basis, depending on the particular situation, the severity of the case, and the police officer involved in the detaining.


Limitations on Police Detainment: How Long Can Police Detain Me?


But how long can police detain you? Although police officers are allowed to detain people in order to help them pursue leads and figure out what happened in a given situation, there are certain limitations on this power of detainment. First, the police officer must tell you whether or not you are actually being detained. This can be determined by simply asking the police officer, “Am I free to leave?” If the police officer says yes, then you are free to leave and go about your business without any further delay.

However, if the police officer says no, you are not free to leave, then you cannot leave until the police officer is finished with his questions for you or his investigation into the crime. This detainment can take anywhere from several minutes to several hours. If this is the case, and you are being detained by the police officer, then you can ask them whether they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to keep you. If they have neither reasonable suspicion or probable cause to keep you, then they are generally not allowed to keep you. However, just because this is what the law requires, does not mean that they will follow it. Sometimes, there are police officers who do not follow the law.

Although this is a direct violation of your civil liberties, arguing the point with the police officer right then may only escalate the situation. As such, you should remember any violations on the part of the police in order to tell your lawyer at a later time and politely voice your objection to the officer, but avoid any further remarks. So how long can the police detain you depends on the particular situation, the severity of the case being investigated, and the particular officer involved.


Contact Us


If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case. Contact us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.

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