Martin Birdsall Esq. Explains What False Arrest is and How to Deal with It

False Arrest occurs when the authorities or private persons wrongfully hold you against your will or take you into custody. The detention is done without lawful justification that is probable cause, a valid arrest warrant, or consent. This wrongful holding is sometimes also called false imprisonment and is generally considered misdemeanor offense. Studies estimate that 4-6% of people incarcerated in US prisons are innocent.

The word false refers to the illegality of the restraint or detention.  Some jurisdictions treat false imprisonment or arrest as kidnapping when the imprisonment is kept secret from others. False arrest is termed as a crime and civil harm which means the victim can sue the concerned authorities for damages in a civil lawsuit. An expert lawyer can help you identify a case of a false threat and deal with it.

What Constitutes a False Arrest?

False or wrongful arrest refers to private as well as government detentions and does not essentially require any malice or bad faith on the offender’s part. Anyone who wrongfully holds a person or restricts that person’s freedom against his/her consent commits the crime of wrongful or false arrest. One such example is keeping someone locked in your home against that person’s will. False arrest and false imprisonment are generally used interchangeably but a false imprisonment may not follow a false arrest, although a falsely arrested person is falsely imprisoned.

A false arrest can also be committed by the police when it acts without authority or beyond the scope of their powers. However, an arrest made by a police officer on the issuance of a warrant by a court based on a wrong statement is not false because the police have the authority to arrest those whom they reasonably suspect of having committed a crime. This is a case of bad arrest and not false arrest. But any arrests made due to personal issues will amount to false or wrongful arrests. The decision of whether an arrest is legal or false can be taken only by a court.

False Imprisonment can be termed as a misdemeanor or felony depending on its outcome and the jurisdiction under which it is covered.

Legal Recourse in Case of a False Arrest

Victims of a false arrest:

  • File a complaint against the arresting officer
  • File a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the false arrest
  • File a lawsuit against the concerned officer and the department demanding an injunction or monetary damages to cover the cost of medical bills if any, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other out-of-the-pocket costs. In the case of injunction, the court can order the retraining of the officers or ask the department to change its official policies for arresting or firing the concerned officer.

Victims of false imprisonment or arrest can also bring a civil lawsuit against the person who restrained them. They can sue for compensation for the harm caused to their reputation or any physical consequences. Civil rights lawsuits are also called Section 1983 suits and were brought in federal district court. Such cases can be filed in state or federal courts in the US when police or prison guards or other state officials use excessive force while acting in their official capacity. The concerned officers can, however, get protection by qualified immunity (immunity available to government officials from lawsuits filed over conduct done while on duty) in the case of civil lawsuits.

A criminal defense attorney can help people who have been falsely detained or arrested without a basis or if the police are acting outside their authority. The attorney can help you understand the situation and guide you through the process to get justice.

How Much Compensation Can be Sought for False Arrests?

The main damage that results from false imprisonment or arrest is the loss of freedom. The amount of compensation that can be sought or the amount you can sue for false arrest depends on the severity of the offense and the physical and mental damages incurred.

  1. If a person is wrongfully arrested and held for a short time, compensation can be sought for the trouble caused.
  2. If a person was unlawfully detained for an extended period or was subjected to harsh conditions, claims can be made for the recovery of punitive damages.
  3. If the arresting officers used excessive force, the person could claim both compensatory and punitive damages.

In the cases of wrongful or false arrests, the burden of proof lies on the police who must provide evidence that they had probable cause for the arrest. Probable cause exists when an officer has a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a crime was committed by the person to be arrested.  An expert lawyer can understand the specifics of your case and guide you in filing the police complaint and making the rightful claims.

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