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Custody is the possession of something or someone. It may be used to describe the detaining of a person by lawful process or authority to assure his or her appearance to any hearing in court and the jailing or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime. It is also used to describe the legal and physical possession of a child in matrimonial and family law.

Custodial Stages

In the United States the criminal custodial process consists of:

  1. Non-custodial Observation - No custody.
  2. Investigative stop, including Terry stops - The suspect is detained briefly, and questioned without making the arrest "official".[1] If the suspect is not free to leave, the suspect is by definition arrested, but Miranda warnings are not required for the suspects comments to be admissible as evidence. In most, but not all cases, a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity is required. This does not require "probable cause". If the police expect to make an arrest but do not yet have "probable cause", they will seek additional evidence at this stage, for example "Field Sobriety Tests", (FST)[2] In general, suspect participation at this stage is not recommended by lawyers, except for providing identification, but police will attempt to encourage the suspect to participate in order to be able to perform a valid arrest.
  3. Arrest - In an arrest, the suspect is more formally detained, with various degrees of force, often including handcuffs. At this point, Miranda warnings are often required in order to use confession evidence, but this depends on the particular situation.
  4. Charge - The police charge the suspect with a crime. In some cases, the charge is issued by the state's attorney (District Attorney) or a grand jury.
  5. Prison - This can be pre-conviction detention as well as post-conviction incarceration.


  1. Police Patrol - Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion
  2. Field Sobriety Tests: Standard and Non-Standardized