Difference between Detention and Arrest

Key Difference: Detention is when the police or any authority holds someone under suspicion but have not charged them with a crime. Arrest is when the police charges someone with a crime and then takes them into custody.

Detention and Arrest are two ways that the police can hold somebody. However, there is a lot of confusion regarding the two terms. What exactly do the two terms mean? What do they mean for the person being detained or arrested; and how much should they worry in each scenario?

The confusion between the two terms arises from the fact that the two scenarios are very similar in nature. They both involve the police holding one against their will, even if they may have a good reason for it. Due to this, people often thing that detention and arrest mean the same thing. However, they do not. Each has its own set of implications.

Detention is when a person is held against their will and temporarily have their liberties revoked. The police have the right to detain someone if they suspect them of breaking the law or any wrong doing. However, the police cannot detain somebody without reasonable suspicion, and can only detain them for a certain period of time. The duration of time is usually decided by the government and varies from region to region. After the time duration is over, the police must either let the person go or arrest them.

An arrest is when a person is accused of a crime and held against their will and has they liberties revoked. However, it order to arrest someone, the police must have evidence that the have committed a crime or were about to commit one. After being arrested, the person is formally accused of the crime, and must be held until their court case when they will either be convicted of the crime or let go if they are unable to convict them on the basis of the evidence.

While it is better to not get detained or arrested at all, detention is generally less serious than an arrest. Hence, if the police is just detaining someone, there is still hope. The situation might not get at bad. However, an arrest is definitely more serious than detention, as it will lead to jail time, and will forever be on the person’s record.

If the police suspect someone of a crime, they may directly arrest someone if there is enough evidence to do so. If there isn’t, then they may detain the suspect, and ask them questions and queries in order to define alibi, motive, etc. All of this may help them build a case against the suspect, and if they don’t have enough then they will release the suspect. However, if they have enough to build a case then they may arrest the suspect and book them.

Detention has an alternative meaning as well, where it refers to the practice of keeping school children back after school hours have ended as a way of punishment. This is similar in context to the detaining to suspects of police in such that both the suspects and the students are being held legally against their will.

Comparison between Detention and Arrest:




Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

The action of detaining someone or the state of being detained in official custody.

The punishment of being kept in school after hours.

Seize (someone) by legal authority and take them into custody.


Police only need reasonable suspicion to hold the suspect

Police need hard evidence to arrest someone


Less serious

More serious

Leads to

May lead to an arrest, if more evidence found.

May lead to jail time if convicted.


Does not show up on criminal record

Does show up on criminal record


Usually for a short period of time. Then they have to be let go or arrested.

Can be held until bail is posted or until their case comes to court.

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Detention and Arrest),
Wikipedia (Detention and Arrest), FreeAdvice
Image Courtesy: latintrends.com, dnaindia.com

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