What is the Difference Between Being Detained and Arrested?

Interacting with law enforcement officers can be intimidating. You may wonder whether you should answer their questions, take a sobriety test or consent to a search. When police stop you, you may not know whether you are under arrest or not. You may wonder whether you can just leave. Many people use detention and arrest interchangeably. However, they aren’t just different ways of saying the same thing. They reflect different legal circumstances and your rights vary in each case.

For example, police only need to have reasonable suspicion to detain you. Reasonable suspicion means police had reasons to suspect you were involved in a crime or about to commit a crime.  However, they need probable cause to arrest you. This means there are objective circumstances leading them to believe you are highly likely to be involved in crime.

Detention should only be for a short time. The US Supreme Court has held that around 20 minutes is a reasonable timeframe although it can depend on the circumstances. When police officers arrest you, they take you into custody and you can’t leave.

Detention and arrest can occur under several circumstances. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on DUIs. If you believe officers detained or arrested unlawfully in Greenville, SC, you should speak to a Greenville DUI lawyer. For now, let’s look at the basics.

An Explanation from a Greenville DUI Lawyer: What Happens When Police Detain Me?


Typically, law enforcement officers will stop you temporarily somewhere in public. They may pull you over for a broken taillight, running a red light or drifting out of your lane. These are examples of things that can cause reasonable suspicion. Officers may keep you waiting briefly while they do a computer search to see if you have outstanding warrants. If they suspect DUI, they may request a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer.

When police detain you, the questions should be basic. For example, the officer may ask for your name and address. They won’t read a Miranda warning since there should be limited intrusion into your personal rights. After brief questioning during a detention, you should feel free to leave. However, you should know that detention can quickly lead to arrest.

How Will I Know if I’ve Been Arrested: What A Greenville DUI Lawyer Has to Say


During detention, police may discover something that leads them to arrest you. During an arrest, you are no longer free to leave or move about. Police should tell you that you are under arrest but they may not handcuff or otherwise restrain you. They will likely take you to the station.

To arrest you, police need probable cause. If you have a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08% or more, the officer has probable cause to suspect DUI. Since this is illegal, he can arrest you.

Even if you refuse to take the tests, you can still be arrested. Let’s say an officer pulls you over for speeding. He smells alcohol on your breath and notices an open container in your vehicle. These factors taken together strongly suggest that you were driving under the influence.

If a police officer arrests you for a DUI in South Carolina, he must read you your Miranda rights. He must remind you of:

  • Your right to remain silent
  • Your right to have an attorney present during questioning
  • Your right to have an attorney provided by the state if you can’t afford one

The officer should also tell you that anything you say can be used against you in court.

Regardless of which interaction you’re having with police, the officer must respect your constitutional rights. If he violates these rights, the court may later deem your arrest unlawful. They would throw out any evidence the officer collects during the arrest. You can question an arrest or detention while it is happening. However, this is best left to an attorney. Interactions on the street with police can quickly escalate and this could jeopardize your case. It is better to fight the matter out in court with legal representation on your side.

Contact a Greenville DUI Lawyer Today if You Suspect Your Arrest Was Unlawful


There are many variables at play during a detention or arrest. Things can change quickly and it can all be very confusing. Any evidence collected by police can be used against you unless it is deemed they got it unlawfully. Police reports concerning a DUI can have a significant impact on your freedom, reputation, and financial wellbeing. If you have any concerns at all about your interaction with police, contact a Greenville DUI Lawyer at The Bateman Law Firm immediately. We will hear the details of your case, investigate and devise a strategy. Let us put our skills and experience to work for you.