Many answers to legal questions involve the word “reasonable,” including the question of how long can you be detained without charges? Under Pennsylvania law, if you do not get brought before a judge for a preliminary arraignment on charges within a reasonable time of getting arrested, they are supposed to release you.
Of course, the million-dollar question is, how long is a “reasonable” time? Unfortunately, the answer to that question will vary depending on the situation. For example, if you get pulled over by the police while driving to work, you can expect to be delayed for around 15 or 20 minutes while they run your license plates and driver’s license to see if you have any warrants outstanding.
They will also need to check your registration and automobile insurance. If they decide to write a ticket, that also can take time. It would not be reasonable, however, under these circumstances if the officers refused to let you leave the location of the traffic stop for seven or eight hours while they did other things unrelated to you.
What It Means to Be Detained
The police might argue that you were not actually detained for the entire time in question. The usual approach to the question of whether an individual is detained is whether it would be reasonable for a person to feel as if they were free to leave without any adverse consequences.
If the officer took any action to prevent you from leaving, like temporarily putting you in a police car or physically blocking you from leaving a location that is open to the public, a judge might consider you as being detained, even if the officer did not perform a formal arrest.
Many people are concerned about the police tasing or shooting them on claims that they resisted arrest. If the police officer has not clearly stated whether you are under arrest, you might ask the officer if you are under arrest. If the officer answers that you are not under arrest, before you leave the area and go about your business, you should ask the officer if you are free to leave.
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Your Constitutional Rights When Detained by an Officer
You do not lose your constitutional rights when an officer detains you or takes you into custody. In fact, some of our most valuable constitutional rights exist to protect people from abuses by the government.
The Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees everyone the right to remain silent so that they do not incriminate themselves. “Pleading the fifth” frequently gets misused by people outside of a criminal setting. For example, if a spouse in a divorce trial gets asked if they had affairs during the marriage, the Fifth Amendment does not give them the right to refuse to answer the question because infidelity is not a crime.
If a law enforcement officer tries to punish you for invoking your right to remain silent to protect against self-incrimination, he might threaten to keep you in a cell or interrogation room until you answer the questions. It is improper for you to get detained for an unreasonable length of time beyond the time necessary to conduct an investigation of the suspected activity and prepare charges.
You must exercise your right to remain silent. The police are allowed to lie to you to convince you to give up this right. You should request the presence of a lawyer and remain silent until your lawyer arrives. You should only give police your demographic information like date of birth and legal name.
The Right to be Free from Illegal Discrimination
42 U.S. Code § 2000d et seq., also called Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits any organization that receives federal funding from engaging in discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. This prohibition applies to law enforcement agencies.
If an officer performs a traffic stop or in some other way detains you simply for the purpose of harassment or discrimination because of the color of your skin or some other illegal type of discrimination, that action could be unreasonable or illegal. In some situations, the police have pulled over drivers and made them remain at the side of the road for hours without ever issuing a citation.
Detaining a Person to Try to Force Them to Give Up Their Constitutional Rights
There are strict rules the police must follow when depriving a person of their freedom, even temporarily. Detaining a person who has not been charged with a crime can be unreasonable, even if brief, if the officer breaks those rules.
Whether You Have a Right to a Phone Call If You Get Detained in Pennsylvania
Contrary to what gets portrayed on television shows, there is no constitutional right to an immediate telephone call if you get detained or arrested. You should eventually get to make a phone call, but you might have to request that opportunity.
When you get your phone call, you should call either a criminal defense lawyer or a friend or family member who will call a lawyer on your behalf. The rules and regulations that govern detentions and arrests are complicated. You do not want to risk getting convicted of a criminal offense by trying to handle your case on your own.
You can contact the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC for aggressive representation. Our team of lawyers will ensure that you and your family are informed of your rights and the criminal legal process.