What Does "Unlawfully Detained" Mean?

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  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Unlawful detention involves keeping a person captive despite having no legal basis for doing so. People who are unlawfully detained can normally press charges against those that detain them. Individuals who are arrested by the police or security forces are said to have been unlawfully detained if the authorities arresting them did not follow proper procedures.

Laws exist in all nations that describe the degree to which citizens are entitled to have freedom of movement. In many countries, people who are found to have unlawfully detained others can face kidnapping charges. Teachers and other people who are in a position of authority over minors are often exempt to some extent from freedom of movement laws. Minors are not of legal age and therefore cannot claim to have been illegally detained if a supervising adult requires them to remain in a particular location for a period of time.

In most countries, police officers and security personnel are required to notify criminal suspects of their legal rights before interrogating them. Police officers who arrest suspected criminals are guilty of violating the law if they forget to explain the suspect’s rights as prescribed by law. Additionally, police officers who falsify evidence in order to arrest citizens without just cause are guilty of unlawfully detaining suspects. Criminal cases sometimes collapse at trial when it emerges that police officers involved in the case violated the suspect’s rights during the arrest.


Security forces combating militants or groups that present a security threat to the incumbent government of a nation sometimes illegally detain individuals that are perceived to present a threat to public safety or the ruling regime. In many instances, undercover security agents are given extra-judicial powers to act outside of the law when dealing with security threats. People who are arrested by these security forces often have difficulty making their experiences public because their rights to freedom of movement are deemed to be secondary to the state's right to conceal its security operations.

Guards who work in retail stores and industrial complexes are sometimes accused of having unlawfully detained people who are suspected of theft or trespassing. Laws in many countries enable members of the public to make "citizens arrests", and some private security guards use these laws as the basis for detaining people until law enforcement officials arrive. In some countries, laws relating to unlawful detentions only protect citizens of the nation and not foreign travelers or emigrants. Consequently, alleged cases of unlawful detentions often occur at border crossings, ports, and international airports.


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Post 4

I read in the paper several years back about a girl who was kidnapped and detained by a man for eight years. She literally was kept in a house all that time and was not able to run away. When she did finally manage to get out, she informed the police. But it was too late because the man had committed suicide by then.

When we usually think of being unlawfully detained, we think about police officers and being arrested. But kidnappings by regular people happen all the time.

Post 3

@simrin-- Generally, yes. But like the article said, there are some exceptions in law that allow for this. For example, if someone is suspected to be engaging in activity that puts national security at risk, then procedures can vary as far as I know.

Post 2

If someone is kept in prison for a long time without trial (due to lack of proof), is that person being unlawfully detained?

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