Detention Law and Legal Definition

Detention is a short period of custody, often occurring while the police are deciding whether or not to arrest you. In order to detain you, the police are supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that you’re involved in a crime. During a detention, the police are entitled to pat the outer surface of your clothing, to check for guns, knives or other weapons. If you’re detained while driving, the officers can look inside the car for weapons (but not in the trunk). A detention search is conducted only to ensure that the detainee has no weapon.

Detention often occurs in the context of aliens seeking asylum or suspected of crimes in the U.S., while awaiting a decision on whether to be deported. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.