Wrongful Arrest: Definition and FAQs
When you hear the term “wrongful arrest,” you may think a police officer always performs it, but sometimes it’s executed by a security guard, a liquor store employee, or a supermarket owner.
What is a Wrongful Arrest?
As stated in the legal dictionary of law.com, the term false arrest, also known as wrongful arrest, means “physically detaining someone without the legal right to do so.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “an arrest not justifiable under law.”
According to the legal dictionary of thefreedictionary.com, a false arrest is “a tort (a civil wrong) that consists of an unlawful restraint of an individual’s personal liberty or freedom of movement by another purporting to act according to the law.”
This crime can be committed by either law enforcement agents or civilians when they act beyond the scope of their authority. Most commonly, it implicates a security guard, store owner, or a retail business employee who holds someone without actually witnessing a crime.
If an Arrest is Wrongful, Can I be Charged for Resisting It?
To execute a proper arrest, the police officer must have a warrant or probable cause to think that a person is committing a crime. Still, at least in California, you must submit to an arrest by a law enforcement officer – even if that officer lacks legal grounds for the arrest. If the law enforcement officer doesn’t have a warrant or probable cause, then the arrest will later be considered as false, or unlawful. An exception to the rule that a person ordinarily must submit to any arrest by a police officer is that if the officer uses excessive force in the course of the arrest, the person subjected to excessive force has the right to use self-defense against that excessive force. Still, using any force against a police officer, in practical terms could get you hurt worse, or killed. If you can end the unlawful arrest and use of excessive force by simply submitting, you have legal options later.
What do I Need to Prove if I’m Filing a Wrongful Arrest Lawsuit?
The person who is suing for false arrest (plaintiff) usually must show that they were aware of the arrest and didn’t agree to the confinement; also, they need to prove that the defendant restrained them on purpose and the arrest wasn’t legally justified.
Can a Civilian Lawfully Detain Someone for Wrongful Arrest in California?
Numerous claims of false arrest mention people who steal from stores. Several states of our country have created laws that permit merchants to restrain clients suspected of shoplifting. California is one of them.
“A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person to be detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises.” (California Penal Code Section 490.5 (f) (1)).
This means that a merchant must think very carefully if there are enough facts to restrain a customer for shoplifting because if they are holding someone without having seen a crime committed, they may be engaging in wrongful arrest and may face charges for it.
Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California. Call or email us for a free consultation.