A false arrest, sometimes called unlawful detainment, is the act of confining someone without probable cause or legal justification. In the case of police officers, probable cause is present when they observe evidence that a crime has been committed, or when they have been issued a warrant in connection with an ongoing investigation.

To deprive someone of their freedom without just cause can lead the person carrying out the arrest to be charged either with a tort or a crime.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause gives law enforcement the authority to make a seizure, search or arrest. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred, and that the person detained has committed the crime. This is established by the police officer’s observations, circumstantial evidence, or through other evidence collected.

It doesn’t require absolute proof or cause beyond a reasonable doubt; what is required are facts and information which would lead a reasonable person to conclude a crime has been committed by the person detained.

Is it a False Arrest if I Didn’t Commit the Crime?

People are often arrested in connection with an investigation and are later released. As long as the officer had probable cause at the time of the arrest, the arrest is permitted. While law enforcement does not have absolute arrest power, it is presumed to have the authority to arrest you based on probable cause.

What Types of Suits can I Bring Against Law Enforcement for False Arrest?

You may choose to sue individual police officers, the municipality and others if you feel you are the victim of false arrest. You can make your claim if you can establish their misconduct resulted in the deprivation of your constitutional right to freedom without cause. Claims for false arrest often include related claims for harassment, discrimination, use of excessive force, or wrongful death.

Typically, you will have to go through administrative channels first before taking your case to court. Note as well that your suit against law enforcement may be limited by immunity policies. Consult with an expert in your jurisdiction to learn more.

Can Ordinary Citizens be Charged with False Arrest?

This depends on your jurisdiction. For instance, a mall security guard may have limited authority to detain you if you are caught shoplifting. This may happen if they, too, have probable cause that you committed the crime and they reasonably believe they can recover the property you stole by detaining you.

In addition, a citizen’s arrest may be allowed in some instances where they have observed a crime in progress, where necessary to prevent harm to someone else or to prevent the perpetrator from eluding the police. A citizen’s arrest is usually limited to circumstances where the crime is considered a felony and the citizen must use reasonable force when detaining the suspect.

Can I Sue a Person in Civil Court for False Arrest?

People may choose to file a lawsuit in the shoplifting scenario above or when detained by a private citizen. If you file a lawsuit in these scenarios, you must establish that you were forcibly restrained without legal authorization or consent.

It isn’t necessary to prove that you were tied up or a restraint was used. The use of threats or being forcibly prevented from moving around freely can be considered sufficient based on the circumstances.

What Kind of Damages Can I Receive?

You can receive any type of damages allowed in civil suits in your jurisdiction. This includes for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, defamation or embarrassment, and punitive damages. Remember, law enforcement may have limited immunity so that can impact the type and amount of damages you may be awarded.

What are Some Examples of False Arrest?

Whether you are a security guard, law enforcement or a private citizen carrying out a citizen’s arrest, you can be held liable for taking such action without legal justification. Typically, if a person succeeds in a lawsuit alleging false arrest, it is because the plaintiff has proven there was insufficient evidence to detain them in the first place or there was another reason entirely why they were detained.

For example, an arrest may often be false if law enforcement took you into custody because of your age, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Also, you cannot be detained just because law enforcement doesn’t like the way you look, you are in a high crime area, or they wish to harass you.

Should I Contact a Criminal Lawyer for Help with a False Arrest Issue?

To be falsely arrested can be frustrating and embarrassing. You may even suffer physical injuries because of being falsely detained. If you want to learn more about what you can do if you are the victim of a false arrest, contact a local criminal defense lawyer. A qualified lawyer will be able to tell you who you may name in your lawsuit and what damages you may be entitled to claim in your suit.