Arrested in Pennsylvania? Not So Fast - Understanding What Is an "Arrest" and What Is Not

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

An arrest can be one of the most traumatic experiences a person can experience in life.  Whether in Philadelphia or in any of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, the shock of being in handcuffs and in the back of a police car can quickly turn to worry about what happens after an arrest.  Moreover, an individual who has never been in trouble before, a Pennsylvania "first-time offender" so to speak, and whether a professional, college student, or average person, will unfortunately have even more concern yet.  What will happen to me after being arrested in Pennsylvania?  What will happen to my future goals?

Although in most instances a person knows he or she is under arrest, there are some circumstances where it may not be as clear.  In such instances, the person was in fact arrested, but it was not made clear to the person arrested by law enforcement, and as a result, the person made a statement or admission that was later used against their interests in subsequent criminal proceedings.  When a person is subject to a "custodial interrogation", which means that the person is in custody and subject to custodial interrogation (questioning by law enforcement), it is just like television - A person has to be given their Miranda rights, which means that the person has to be informed that they have the "right to remain silent and that anything they say can be used against them."  If a person is only in custody, but is not being questioned by the police or other law enforcement, Miranda rights are not invoked. 

Because what happens after a person is arrested can be critical in a criminal case against the person when charged, an understanding the what constitutes an arrest and what does not will help make what can be gray area more black and white, and will help a person protect their rights when dealing with police and law enforcement.

What is considered an "arrest" in Pennsylvania?

An "arrest" is any act that indicates an intention to take a person into custody and that subjects him or her to the actual control and will of the person making the arrest.  An arrest may thus be effectuated without the actual use of force and without a formal statement of arrest.

A police encounter with a suspect may be characterized as a mere encounter, and investigative detention, or a formal arrest.  Implicated in the definition of "arrest" is the meaning of "seizure."  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected the federal definition of "seizure" as inconsistent with the constitutional protections afforded by Article 1: Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Examples of What Constitutes an Arrest in Pennsylvania

The following examples provide an overview of what is considered an arrest in Pennsylvania.  More specifically, under the following circumstances, Pennsylvania courts have established that a defendant was under "arrest":

  • When the Pennsylvania State Police entered a defendant's home with their guns drawn, ordered the defendant out of the closet, placed the defendant in handcuffs, and then took the defendant to City Hall for questioning;
  • When an off-duty, non-uniformed Pennsylvania State Trooper displayed his weapon, ordered the defendant out of his vehicle, handcuffed him and held him by his arm, thereby threatening and using force;
  • When police arrived at a defendant's home at mealtime, asked him to come to the police station, and once at the police station, questioned him all night;
  • When a defendant had been detained and the police officer intended to take him into custody;
  • When a defendant was placed in a police wagon;
  • When a defendant was escorted to a room by a police officer and locked in the room;
  • When a defendant was handcuffed;
  • When police forced the defendant's car to stop and restrained his freedom to leave.

If I am placed in a police car, am I under arrest?

For better or worse, it depends.  A person may only be detained (see below paragraph regarding if stopped by the police) or a person may in fact be under arrest.  For example, placing an accused in a police vehicle after a "pat down" search and transporting him to the scene of the burglary constitutes an arrest in Pennsylvania.  The transportation of a defendant in police vehicle, pursuant to a court order, from jail to a police station is an administrative process and does not, in and of itself, affect the character of the custodial questioning nor does it have an impact on the defendant's rights during the questioning.  Therefore, such an occurrence is not an arrest.

If the police stop me, am I under arrest in Pennsylvania?

It depends on the nature of the stop.  If the stop is brief, the person may not be considered to have been "arrested".  An individual has not been arrested when he or she is stopped briefly for questioning.  An officer may stop and briefly detain and question an individual if the investigating officer can point to "specific and articulable" facts which reasonably warrant the belief that criminal activity is afoot.  These brief investigator stops are not considered arrests.

Does it matter if the police believe I am under arrest or not?

Although one Pennsylvania court case determined that when a defendant voluntarily appeared at a police station and was told he was free to go, the defendant was not in custody, generally speaking, the subjective view of the police concerning whether a defendant was detained or free to leave is not controlling on whether the person is considered to under arrest or not.

Pennsylvania Attorney to Defend Against Arrest and Charges | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Although such an extreme act as an arrest would seem to be clear in all instances, this is not always the case.  Police and law enforcement unfortunately also try to take advantage of people they are investigating, and in doing so, will put individuals in positions where those inexperienced with the criminal justice system will not know protect their own rights.

Whether it is clear or not, a defendant must make sure to protect his or her rights both before a potential arrest and after, attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help.  If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact him today to learn what steps should be taken after being arrested and charged.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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