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What Does Being In Police Custody Mean?

You are probably familiar with “police custody.” But it is also likely you do not understand exactly what it means or the factors determining when someone is in police custody.

This article explores police custody, its definition, Miranda rights, key concepts, and legal principles involved in police custody. So, if you’re curious about what may happen after an arrest or your rights when you get in such a situation, read on to find out.

Police Custody Defined

Police custody refers to a situation where a person is held by law enforcement for questioning or as part of their investigation. While in this state, the person is under the control of the police and is not free to leave. Different scenarios can be defined as being in police custody. The scenarios include when a person is under arrest, detention, and investigation.

There are situations where the police may stop you for questioning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in custody. For example, if the police believe you are privy to something about a case they are investigating, they may approach you for questioning without necessarily putting you into custody. Under such circumstances, you may be free to leave.

When an officer has questions about a matter they believe you know about, and you are unsure if you are under arrest, it is best to ask if you are at liberty to leave. If they answer yes, you are not in police custody. If they answer no, you are in police custody, but it doesn’t always mean you are under arrest.

Your Rights When Under Police Custody

The law protects you from any unlawful detention under the Fourth Amendment. If the police stop you on the street for no apparent reason, the arrest is illegal. Even when they have reasonable suspicion of a crime, they cannot detain you for longer than the time they need to conduct their investigations. 

The Fifth Amendment gives suspects in criminal cases a right to silence and is part of the Miranda rights read during an arrest or before interrogation. You probably have heard Miranda rights read in movies. It is the set of words told to a person during an arrest outlining their right to silence and a lawyer and what they say can be used against them.

If you invoke your Fifth Amendment right, the police or interrogating officer cannot continue interrogating you without a lawyer. Any information retrieved from you after you invoke your rights is challengeable and may not be admissible in court.

You Have a Right to Silence Even When Not Under Arrest

However, this right does not extend to not providing personal information while in police custody, so you can answer questions about your name and contact information. Anything else is subject to whether you choose to speak or not.

You can invoke your right to silence even when not arrested. If you feel the direction of the questioning could lead to self-incrimination, invoke your right to silence and contact a lawyer. Many believe communicating with the police will showcase their sincerity, but the reality is more nuanced. The primary objective of the police is to gather evidence and make arrests, which may not always align with your best interests.

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