A wrongful arrest (also called “false arrest”) can happen to anyone at any time. You may look like someone the police are looking for, you may have been misidentified by someone (intentionally or unintentionally) or just may be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An arrest can be embarrassing, particularly if you’re not guilty. But if it happens, here’s what you need to prove you that should not have been arrested.
Wrongful arrest is a violation of your Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizures. Both private citizens and law enforcement personnel can commit a wrongful arrest. You can also sue for damages by way of a civil lawsuit.
First: don’t resist an arrest
Even if you know you’re being wrongfully arrested, resisting arrest is also a crime. It may be legal to resist a wrongful arrest, but you can still be charged. You’ll still have the right to speak to an attorney, and the right to a fair trial to prove your innocence. Always be polite, and never threaten a law enforcement officer or another individual during the arrest process.
Your right to remain silent
Exercise this right, especially in the case of a wrongful arrest. Make sure you ask for and have an attorney available whenever you speak to the police. Don’t wait for them to read you the “Miranda Warning,” since anything you say at the time of arrest can also be used against you. Give no statements until you can speak to an attorney.
Decline any searches without warrants
Police have procedures they must follow when they obtain a search warrant. But if you permit a search without a warrant, your rights may not be respected. The Fourth Amendment protects you from unwarranted searches.
The “Citizen Arrest”
Private citizens can also commit a wrongful arrest by detaining you and not allowing you to leave, violating your Fourth Amendment rights. An example is a private security guard in a retail store detaining you for shoplifting without witnesses or other probable cause. If there is cause, a guard can detail you temporarily until the police arrive to take over. But detaining someone without cause becomes a wrongful arrest or false imprisonment.
The ACLU offers this guide to knowing and understanding your rights when dealing with law enforcement in the state of Colorado.
Proving wrongful arrest in court
You’ll need to make four points in your case:
- The individual in question intentionally confined or arrested you, preventing you from leaving and depriving you of your Fourth Amendment rights. This may be law enforcement or a private individual, such as a store manager or supervisor.
- That the plaintiff (you) was conscious of the confinement and understood that you were being confined, arrested and prevented from leaving.
- That the plaintiff (you) did not consent to being confined, and the arrest/confinement was done anyway.
- If the arrest was “privileged” or legally justified. This is usually when a warrant, court order, or probable cause is involved and can justify an otherwise wrongful arrest. While a warrant and a court order can make an arrest justified, probable cause is less clear and can prove that an arrest was, indeed, wrongful.
Probable Cause allows a police officer to make an arrest on someone if he or she has sufficient reason to believe at the time of the arrest that the individual has or intends to commit a crime. It does not matter if the individual is guilty of a crime — that’s addressed in court. Should an individual claim probable cause, they can use it as a defense for wrongful arrest.
Call us — we’ll fight for your rights
Wrongful arrests can happen to anyone, anytime. If you’ve been wrongfully arrested, or your civil rights have otherwise been violated, an experienced civil rights attorney will fight for your rights. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165. Schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll defend you against wrongful arrests and other overreaching actions by police, and help you clear your name.