What Is the Difference Between Arrest & Formal Arrest?

By Hazel Baker
It, the difference, arrest, formal arrest
handcuffs image by William Berry from Fotolia.com

Many people are not aware of the differences between being detained or held by the police and being formally arrested. It is important to make this distinction, particularly if you find yourself in a situation involving law enforcement officials.


If a police officer believes that they have probable cause to do so, they are within their rights to detain you for a period of time in order to question you. This does not mean that you are under formal arrest.

Formal Arrest

If you are handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car, are told that you are being formally arrested, or are not allowed to leave for an extended period of time, you should assume that you are under formal arrest.

Miranda Rights

Most people expect that if they are placed under arrest, they will be read their Miranda Rights. This does not always occur immediately, however. If you are placed under arrest, you will be informed of that fact, but may or may not have your Miranda Rights read to you.

Offenses, Arrest, And Warrants

In general, you can only be formally arrested for a misdemeanor offense if you have committed a criminal offense in the presence of an officer. Warrants or witness statements are required to make a formal arrest in the case of misdemeanors. Warrants are not always needed for a felony arrest.

Know Your Rights

You cannot be arrested without sufficient evidence to link you to criminal activity. Knowing your rights when it comes arrests, warrants, and related matters is very important.