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What happens when you’re in police custody? 10, 2019)--It may be that, unfortunately, some of us will find ourselves in police custody during our lifetime. It can be a scary experience - not only for the person involved, but for their friends and family as well. So, what can you do?

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This is just some of the information that you might find useful if you or a loved one has been placed under arrest. It may be helpful to you in some situations, but you may also wish to consult a lawyer before you decide on your next course of action.


What is detention?

This is typically when law enforcement officers temporarily stop someone in a public place, and don’t move them to another location. This can be to:


  • Ask the person to justify their presence and activity at that location
  • Identify themselves


This may happen if, for example, someone is loitering or acting suspiciously in an area that’s known for drug sales - so the officers may detain this person for questioning. If the officers have reasonable suspicion that the person may be dangerous, they may do a ‘pat down’ to search for weapons. They can go into pockets or bags without permission but, if they feel something, they may believe is a weapon, they can reach for it.


Other ways to search someone may include sniffer dogs, a metal detector, or a computer search for any outstanding warrants. A detention stop allows law enforcement officers to determine whether a suspect should be arrested, investigated further, or take no action. The officers don’t have to inform someone of their rights.


What does being arrested mean?

Law enforcement officers need probable cause to arrest someone, and a reasonable person would not feel free to leave because of the actions of the officers. The person is then taken into custody, and this could mean the person is taken to a police station or the person believes they will not be able to leave within a short time period.


Once arrested, the person must be advised of their rights by the officers before being questioned. This will include their right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, and to have an attorney provided by the state if they cannot afford one themselves. A person also has rights to having a reasonable bail imposed, to see a judge promptly, and to know about the charges against them.


When are you in custody?

Circumstances that suggest you’re in custody include:


  • Being physically restrained or handcuffed
  • Whether an officer informs you that you’re free to leave
  • Your personal property is retained by an officer (e.g. driver’s license)
  • If there’s a show of force, e.g. loud comments, drawn weapons


If you are in custody, and bail has been set, then you may wish to use a bail bondsman. This means that you can get help to post a bond and deal with the other expenses related to incarceration - and you can be released from custody within one to three hours after the bond is posted.



Being in custody isn’t a pleasant experience, but by understanding exactly what it means and what you and your loved ones can do to help, you can hopefully move past the troubling experience sooner rather than later.