False Arrest

A police officer needs more than mere suspicion to restrain your freedom of movement.


What is the legal definition of "false arrest"?

A false arrest and/or false imprisonment occurs when your liberty or freedom of movement is unlawfully restrained. Although you typically bring claims of false arrest or imprisonment against a police officer, you can also bring a claim against a private citizen (and his or her employer) who restrains you against your will.

When do I have a legal claim for false arrest?

You may have a claim of false arrest if you were arrested without "probable cause."

What is probable cause?

This term comes from the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constituion.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v. Gates (1983) defined probable cause as having "substantial chance" or "fair probability" of criminal activity could establish probable cause. A better-than-even chance is not required., although a mere suspicion of criminal activity is not enough.

However, a police officer may restrain you for a brief period of time if he or she suspects that you have committed a criminal act. Terry v. Ohio (1968).

Can I sue if the charges were dismissed or if I was found not guilty?

Not necessarily. A claim or lawsuit for false arrest depends on whether the arrest or detention was based upon probable cause, not on the guilt or innocence of the person who was arrested or detained.

Can I sue for false arrest if the search warrant contained untrue statements?

Not necessarily. If a police officer had a warrant that appeared valid and was obtained in good faith, the officer may have had probable cause to arrest you.

Can I sue for false arrest if I was found guilty of the crime?

Probably not. If you were convicted of the crime for which you were arrested, the conviction may be used as conclusive proof that the police had probable cause to arrest you. However, you may be able sue if the police had an illegal intent for arresting you or if the police used excessive force when they arrested you.

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This article appears courtesy of Legal Aid of Western Michigan.