Does a "detention" count as an arrest?

When filling out the SF86, they ask if I have ever been arrested. No I have not, but I was once “detained” and taken to jail and fingerprinted and held there for four hours. It was only after I hired a lawyer that I found out it was not really an arrest, it was only a detention. (It was for possession of controlled substance). Can I still answer the question “no”. Or do I need to disclose the detention. It was in about 1991.

It seems likely that this will show up in a records check. It’s going to come down to how long ago this was, how old you were at the time and why you weren’t charged. They are far more interested in what happened before your “detention” than they are in the fact that you were not arrested or charged.


Sounds close enough to me.

Answer no as it is truth. BUT in comment section give info about detention. Bases covered and truth prevails.

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Reminds me of a story a guy told me about an interview… they were going around and around what it meant to be arrested/detained/whatever. Finally the investigator asked him, “have you ever been in the back of a police car?” My friend said “no” and they got past that question.

I wouldn’t put too much faith in that exchange but I thought it was amusing.

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That’s actually a pretty good way to consider the question. I didn’t put down any arrests on my last SF-86 but got into a similar discussion over a municipal warrant for my arrest for “failure to appear” in court. When I received the warrant in the mail, I went to my local police station, met with an officer and posted a $250 bond (I just wrote a check) and appeared in court the next day. I explained that I had never received the summons for court, the prosecutor agreed with me and everything was thrown out. It all took less than 24 hours.

The investigator, a former special agent at the IRS, explained to me that I HAD been arrested but that my explanation made it understandable why I didn’t realize that I had been.

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It’s tricky for sure. I know that in some situations a ticket is just a ticket. In other situations, you are given a ticket which is technically (aka on the record as) an arrest. I can see where there is a grey area here. I’d just see if you can get a copy of your police record so you know exactly what the record says because it will likely be reviewed in the investigative process. Same principle as reviewing your credit report before you submit your forms so you know what they’re going to see and you are prepared.

I have found this website useful in understanding how to report an arrest and a charge on the SF86:

“Since a charge can be changed or dropped between the time of an arrest and the defendant’s initial court appearance, the best definition of a “charge” for SF86 purposes is any accusation of criminal conduct as it is initially presented at court.”

“For SF86 purposes an arrest is any situation in which a law enforcement officer restricts a person’s freedom, then either takes them into custody or releases them on their promise to appear in court (i.e. issues a citation).”

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I only skimmed the content of the article, but it’s important to know that it was published in 2011.

The SF86 was form was updated and changed as of 2016, so some of the information may be different now.

Some places do still use the old SF86 but it’s very rare.

Just something to keep in mind.

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Appreciate the feedback and yes that is something to consider.

I believe that article was published by this website. @willam-henderson any insight as to if the information in that article is reliable today?

There is little difference between section 22 of the 2008, 2010 and 2016 versions of the SF86. They added a question about parole/probation and a separate question about conviction for crimes involving domestic violence. The definitions offered for arrest and charge in the article are just as valid today as they were in 2011. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that just being issued a citation does or doesn’t amount to an arrest, because there is a separate question that asks about citations (tickets). The important thing is to disclose the incident on the SF86. No one is going to fault you for answering “yes” to the question about citations and answer “no” to the question about arrests, if you were cited and released by a police office. What really matters is whether or not you were EVER charged in court with an offense that involved alcohol, drugs, firearms, or explosives.