In our last blog post, we examined a viral video of a Philadelphia police officer detaining a black teenager for standing at a bus stop and summarized some of the salient points of the difference between police detentions and arrests. The reality, though, is that this is a topic that can't be covered in a single – or even a dozen – blog posts. Entire books have been written on the subject.
Here, though, we're going to scratch the surface of one of the most important differences between detentions and arrests – when police can conduct one.
Police Detentions Versus Police Arrests
The job of a police officer revolves around finding evidence that a crime has been committed, and then apprehending the person who seems to have committed the crime.
Gathering the evidence often involves talking with people and the suspect. Apprehending the suspect is much more final, and typically culminates in the arrest.
The whole point of the arrest is to make sure the suspect cannot leave or get away. Detentions, on the other hand, are less invasive, less final, and less controlling.
Reasonable Suspicion Versus Probable Cause
In order to make an arrest, police need to have probable cause to believe that the person under arrest has committed a crime. People often forget that probable cause is far less than the degree of certainty required for a conviction – probable cause involves something like 51% certainty that the person being arrested committed a crime, while beyond a reasonable doubt requires something like 98%.
To detain someone, though, police only need to show that they had a reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred, or was about to happen. This is even less than the probable cause that is required to make an arrest.
However, that is not to say that police can detain anyone they want, and then later claim that they had a hunch that something was up. They have to be able to articulate that suspicion and back it up with supporting details.
This is where race becomes a serious factor and a problem in policing. With such a low standard for detaining someone without making an arrest, police are often able to come up with a way of adequately articulating a hunch, after the fact. If they know they can justify a detention down the road, police officers looking for evidence of a crime can feel empowered to harass and detain people on something more like a whim than a hunch. The people who they choose to harass are those who they think are the least able and least likely to lawyer up.
Joseph D. Lento: A Philadelphia Criminal Defense Who Holds Police Accountable
Philadelphia is becoming known as a city with a police department that is aggressive and racially insensitive. Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who works daily to hold them in line and protect the people they are accusing of committing a crime.
Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online to get the strong legal defense that you need.