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Situation

Last summer, I went for a hitchhiking trip in the USA. Someone I did not know invited me to stay in the small cabin behind their house while they were absent. A neighbour saw me in the garden, freaked out and called the police. The police came and arrested me (guns in hands), they read my rights, checked my ID and asked me various questions. I did behave well, the whole thing was actually pretty funny. Everything was recorded on camera. I was NOT taken to the police station.

After 15 minutes, they managed to call the owner (I did not know her number, I barely knew her first name) and confirmed that I was allowed to sleep in the cabin. The police officers took the handcuffs off and wished me a good night!

Question

  • Is this small intervention registered in their files?
  • Could they register that I am the "kind of guy" who tend to put himself in weird situations or something?
  • Will this event have any impact on my probability of re-entering the USA as a tourist or of receiving a future visa in the USA?

Extra-info

My passport is Swiss and I am now living in Vancouver, Canada. I was a student (student visa) in the USA (Alaska) a few years ago.

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I'm not sure it's fair on the neighbour to say he or she freaked out. If I saw someone I didn't know in my neighbour's garden and I knew my neighbour was away, I would regard it as my civic duty to call the police to investigate. As regards the police, of course they would draw weapons on an unknown intruder until they established he was no threat. Frankly, I think you were rather lucky they managed to contact the owner (with no help from you!) and let you be. Had they not, they would have had every right to detain you until they did manage to check out your rather shaky story. – Owen Boyle Jan 8 at 9:46
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of course they would draw weapons on an unknown intruder until they established he was no threat ... O tempora, o mores! I strongly believe our European police wouldn't draw guns on a guest whom I allowed to pick a tent in my garden or take some fruits from my trees or similar. – Vladimir F Jan 8 at 10:39
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@VladimirF I also doubt that European police would draw guns in that scenario. However, bear in mind that guns are much more widely available in the US -- there are more registered guns than people. This means that it's much more likely that a random suspect is armed in the US than in Europe and that changes how the police must respond. Also, it's unfair to phrase it as "a guest whom I allowed": the whole reason for the incident is that the neighbour (and, by extension, the police) didn't know the asker had been given permission. – David Richerby Jan 8 at 10:55
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@OwenBoyle: "I assume you are aware there is an invention called television and on it they show shows?" - I'm fairly convinced the way German police work is shown on various of those shows (to make the show more exciting and fit all kinds of discoveries and surprises into 30 minutes) is extremely far from what police over here actually works like. Seeing something on a tv show is not a good indicator for what actual procedures are like. – O. R. Mapper Jan 9 at 10:51
up vote 31 down vote accepted

You will know when you are arrested in the United States because an officer will say explicitly that, and read you your rights (just like on TV). You may be read your rights before or after you are arrested, but if this did not happen at all, it's unlikely you were officially arrested.

An arrest also requires a lot of paperwork by the police, so if you were released at the scene and never taken to the police station, it's unlikely you were officially arrested.

If you want to be sure, you can contact the FBI and ask for your own US criminal record, which includes convictions and arrests anywhere in the US. This costs $18 USD plus fingerprinting fees, and the website currently says that processing time is "13-15 weeks".

You can also ask the state police in the state in which the incident took place, or contact the local police department. The last of those is likely to be the quickest way to find out, but the FBI record is generally accepted by foreign consulates as proof of your criminal history (or lack thereof).


As for consequences:

Merely being arrested really doesn't affect your eligibility to enter the US. For that, you would have had to be convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, which is generally fraud, property crime or violent crime.

However, if you were arrested, you do have to disclose the fact that you were arrested, if you are asked to do so on a landing card or by an immigration officer, and tell them the whole silly story. Since this sort of thing tends to make clearing immigration a very lengthy process, you might wish to keep a copy of that FBI record I mentioned earlier, as it may help speed things up.

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@MichaelHampton it's possible to arrest someone without reading them their rights; it's just not possible to use any statements made between the arrest and the reading of rights in court. – phoog Jan 8 at 0:07
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But you can be read your rights without being arrested. I'm not sure he was ever actually arrested. – Loren Pechtel Jan 8 at 3:46
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Actually, whether they have to read you your rights is separate from whether or not you're under arrest. For the police to need to read your rights, you have to be under "custodial interrogation," meaning that 1) you're not free to leave and 2) the police are doing things they should know might get you to incriminate yourself. You can be under arrest without needing your rights read, so long as they're not interrogating you. Also, custodial interrogation can happen whenever you're not free to leave, which can be much less than a full arrest. Relevant. – Mike Haskel Jan 8 at 7:28
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For US police having guns in their hands is not a sign that they have arrested you, it's just a sign that they think you might be armed (which in the US is true for almost everybody). If you were under arrest they would have told you. – DJClayworth Jan 8 at 15:01
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They read you your rights and handcuffed you, but did you hear the phrase "you're under arrest?" If they didn't take you to the police station, fingerprint and photograph you, and formally charge you with anything then you were simply detained, not arrested. No way do they have a record of it. – Dave Kaye Jan 8 at 19:03

I doubt you can know.

I know that sounds like a wishy-washy answer, but I'm also able to provide the specific reasoning that backs up that answer.

First, I've heard of some serious criminals (like mob bosses) who had impeccable records: "not even a parking ticket". (I presume that they used their wealth/power to get a chauffeur to drive, which kept their own driving record clean.)

Second, based on personal experience: Someone once called the police on me. The situation: I left behind a bag of sack lunches, in a pre-agreed location, where some homeless people would later pick it up. The person who called this in did not know what was in the bag. Concerns could be that it was a terrorist act, or part of distributing drugs. My license plate was recorded. Well, I was driving my dad's car, so the next day my dad got called by the police. My father informed me of this.

I knew my father scorns the police (in practice, disapproving of how they do their job). However, I wanted to remain on good terms with the local police. (My weekly delivering-food-to-homeless ministry continues to this day.) So I went to the police station to clear up any confusion.

The police officer I spoke with indicated that there was no record of my activity. He said that what likely happened is that an officer responded to the complaint, decided that there was no actionable issue or even an issue that required a permanent record, and so he considered the matter closed. The result is that there was no ongoing record.

If that sort of handling was done in your case, there might be no record whatsoever. (It may be less likely that there was no record, in your case, if multiple officers were dispatched. Still, they might not have bothered to keep your name recorded.)

So, with that background provided, I provide this answer to your first question ("Is this small intervention registered in their files?") : Evidence indicates the answer is: possibly no. You might not have anything recorded in the files at all.

As for your next question, "Could they register"... Um, sure. They can spend the resources (including time) to make a record of some details, if they desired.

As for your next question: ("Will this" ... "impact"), the background of my answer is this: Large organizations, including law enforcement and people protecting national borders, are expanding their use of "big data". There is substantial efforts to increase the effectiveness of computers that process large amounts of recorded information. The success of such efforts is increasing over time, particularly as (more) organizations are continuing to dump more resources into research on how to keep improving our abilities to use automation to extract details. So, my answer to that is: the chances of this impacting you are increasing over time. (Or, stated conversely: the chances that this would not follow you are decreasing over time.) However, different organizations vary. The chances are the law enforcement of Vancouver, B.C. (which is a big city that is widely recognized Internationally) may be more likely to record things than White Rock, B.C. or Aldergrove B.C. (which are smaller cities). If the law enforcement who approached you were from Sumas, that city is so small that, in the dark, it might not even be recognized as being a city. They're certainly on a smaller budget, and probably using less sophisticated methods and technologies than U.S. Border Patrol. So it all depends on who you spoke to, and what their processes are like at the exact moment of time. Over time, processes are trending towards increasing the use of recording lots of data so that "big data" automation is more useful.

Of course, even if one branch of law enforcement didn't capture your information, if you inquire with a different branch of law enforcement then they may have no details. So an answer of "no" may not be very tell-tale.

Finally, I would note that if you inquire with them about what details they have about you specifically, your inquiry could cause a record which might affect things (even if not today, then someday in the future). So you might be best off to not make an inquiry and see what happens. If you don't get troubled more than average, then your best approach may be to simply conclude that there is probably no record that seems to be actively causing trouble.

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This is heavy on heresay, rambling anecdote and speculation and short on relevant fact. It also directly contradicts the other answer. – David Richerby Jan 8 at 21:09
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Not to mention that you contradict yourself. It is certainly possible to know; you simply contact the relevant agencies and ask, as you say you did. – Michael Hampton Jan 8 at 21:32
    
@David: The reason for contradiction may be due to disagreement. That answer basically implies a unified policy. I say that different police departments operate different, particularly regarding an internal matter like how they take/keep some types of notes. – TOOGAM Jan 9 at 0:00
    
@MichaelHampton No, not that simple, as I note in the second-last paragraph (second sentence). If they provide details, then I know I have them. If they don't, then there's no way to conclusively know. In the case described above, I left the police station wondering if my details were in some other office/database which was (probably unintentionally) not provided. – TOOGAM Jan 9 at 0:01
    
There is of course a direct contradiction between "increased use of big data will improve effectiveness and "increased uses of big data may result in someone as innocent as the OP being held up at the border" (whihc is not invalidating your argument but rather the blind trust of big data followers) – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 9 at 8:15

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