Unlawful detainment might occur during a traffic stop, a police investigation, pending deportation proceedings, or any time a person is denied freedom of movement by a person in authority. Laws in most areas set time limits for the detention of people suspected of crimes. Violations of these standard requirements might illustrate unlawful detainment. Terrorism laws in some countries spark controversy because they may pose a threat to civil liberties by unlawful detainment.
When a person is taken into police custody for questioning as a crime suspect, laws typically limit the amount of time he or she may be held without formal charges. These laws also ensure a court appearance within defined time limits. If these standards are not met, it could indicate unlawful detainment. Unless exceptions exist, a means of release from custody until trial comes under civil liberty rights.
If it is necessary to hold a person beyond the statutory confines of law for his or her protection, it typically does not indicate unlawful detainment in some regions. Exceptions to the law also exist for confining an individual to protect the safety of another, and to prevent a crime. When releasing a suspect might interfere with an investigation, or if the suspect cannot be identified, exceptions to unlawful detainment laws might be implemented.
Racial profiling defines one area of unlawful detainment if a person is stopped or held simply because of ethnicity. One study in England and Wales found police were stopping and searching white people to balance racial statistics to avoid being accused of prejudice. Anti-terrorism laws in the region give police the power to detain people when reasonable suspicion exists that a person poses a threat to national security. A court found these acts constituted illegal detainment and violated the human right to civil liberty in the United Kingdom.
Illegal detainment sometimes applies to private as well as public property. For example, a person obstructed from leaving a store under suspicion of shoplifting generally cannot be confined without valid evidence that he or she stole something. An employer, who holds a position of authority over subordinates, might also violate the law if he or she uses coercion to force an employee to undergo questioning about a theft without reasonable suspicion.
Immigration laws in some areas protect against wrongful detainment when an illegal immigrant serves jail time for a crime. He or she typically may not be held after a sentence is served pending deportation proceedings. These laws usually apply in countries where international human rights treaties exist.
Some cases of unlawful detainment arise out of airport security measures that fall under anti-terror legislation. Airport security personnel might screen airport passengers who act suspiciously. In these instances, authorities might demand travel papers and identification and hold the traveler while investigating. If someone is confined without suitable evidence of terrorism activity, it might provoke an unlawful detention complaint.