Police can detain a suspect for 48-72 hours (depending on the state) without filing charges. Note that this is before any judicial scrutiny occurs: I.e., not only are you (supposedly) presumed innocent, but you have not even been indicted and the prosecutor has not even decided whether to seek an indictment. So the standards for detention are extremely low.

Furthermore, there appears to be no consistent right to communicate with anyone during detention. You can demand a lawyer if you are interrogated, but the police could instead choose to simply detain you without questioning.

It seems that the consequences of this to the detainee could be disastrous: Imagine you're a single working mother snatched by the police during your lunch break. Your employer and/or clients don't hear from you for 3 days. Your babysitter can't reach you when you fail to return home at the usual hour. You may miss deadlines for financial matters that could incur enormous direct costs.

Do all of these costs have to be born by the innocent individual?

Does the state have any obligation to care for your dependents while you are detained?

2 Answers 2


No, there is no recourse. An yes, the potential "costs", both personal, financial, social, can be high and are not compensable under an investigatory hold scenario; however, it doesn't usually happen like that. There is no investigatory hold that long without arrest. If the police want to talk to you but don't have enough to arrest you, you can leave any time. If you call your lawyer, he/she will come to the police station and tell the cops to release or arrest you.

If the police really want you to stay, likely there is probable cause and they can keep you anyway. The police can arrest you and keep you, without a warrant so long as there is "probable cause" to believe that a crime has been committed (by you). Once arrested without a warrant, this is what is usually referred to as an investigatory hold, where the law says you must be arraigned within 72 hours (some states it must be 48 hours, 1 day less than supreme court says is reasonable). During this time they can investigate their case against you and decide what, if any, charges they will bring.

There is no recourse for this, (in the event they bring no charges) unless you can establish that you were held for no reason (including not being falsely identified) and that it was only to intentionally deprive you of your right to liberty. This is nearly impossible to prove, unless you really did nothing and the cop was just messing with you (for instance in a personal vendetta) and you can show that.

  • This doesn't address the last part of the question: "Does the state have any obligation to care for your dependents while you are detained?"
    – nanoman
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 16:34

There are a number of different options. The first question is: (1) did the police have a reasonable cause to make an arrest in the first place, (2) do they have grounds to hold the person, and (3) are the state laws inconsistent with the Constitution in any way?

Make no mistake, "detaining" someone for long periods of time is an arrest. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a person can be "detained" for up to 20 minutes if some suspicion exists. Holding someone for more than that amount of time constitutes an arrest. Unfortunately, many states have created essentially unconstitutional laws defining "detention" in a different way than the Supreme Court. In Hayes vs Florida (470 U.S. 811) the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to remove a person from their home and take them to a police station unless they had a warrant or probable cause for arrest. Another case is Kaupp v.Texas in which the police made a false arrest out of a home. In general, anytime the police forcibly transport a person to a police station, it is an arrest.

If a person is being "detained", this is only justifiable for "investigative" purposes. A person cannot be imprisoned for no reason. If the person clearly states they refuse to answer questions, the police have no justification for holding and must let them go, otherwise it is false imprisonment. Also, if the police "detain" someone and do not question them, but leave them in cells for hours, it is false imprisonment. If the person talks to the police or cooperatively answers their questions, that will justify the "detention". For this reason (among others) a person wanting to stay out of "detention" should NEVER talk to the police or answer any of their questions.

The remedy is to sue the town that employees the police in question, or county if it is a sheriff, state if it is a State police officer, or US Government if it is a federal official or office, like a treasury agent or postal inspector.

  • So you're saying that the only remedy is via civil suit against the agency involved, if and only if the detention was not a bona fide arrest?
    – feetwet
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 18:29
  • A jury can do whatever it wants. Even if the detention was perfectly legal, the jury could still award $5 million dollars. It might get thrown out on appeal though. If the detention was clearly a false arrest, it will be more likely to stand up on appeal. In most cases a town will settle long before it gets to that point if the plaintiff has even a small chance of winning. A town losing a lawsuit like that would be a legal nightmare.
    – Cicero
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 18:34

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