Monday, April 14, 2008

What is a False Arrest Case?

There are numerous ways that a case for false arrest entitling a person to compensatory damages may arise. There are two ways individuals can be arrested: with a warrant or without a warrant for their arrest first being issued. Either way however an arrest must be made upon what is known as "probable cause". In order for a law enforcement officer to arrest someone without a warrant first being issued, that officer must make a determination that there is "probable cause" to believe that person has committed a misdemeanor in their presence or has committed a felony. Please note that the law does not expect the police officer on the street to be a prosecutor, a lawyer or a judge or jury. However, the law does hold the officer responsible for only making arrests with "probable cause" – this means that based on the facts presented to the officer, the officer could reasonably believe that a person has committed a crime. It does not leave room for hunches, speculation or simple intuition. If it can be established that a reasonable officer after reviewing the same facts would have acted the same way as the officer did in making the arrest, it will be difficult to maintain that case in Court; in fact, the case may be thrown out before even having a trial.
The second way a person can be arrested (as many times often is the case) is after an investigation has been done and a warrant for their arrest has been signed by a Court. Cases of false arrest where warrants have first been issued are sometimes more difficult to prove. In order to get a warrant, the police department and prosecutor first have to convince a judge that probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime exists. However just because they have been able to do this, does not mean that there can be no claim for false arrest. For example, if it has been determined that in order to gain a warrant for a person’s arrest a police officer has given false facts to the court upon which it will consider whether or not to issue a warrant, a claim for false arrest can be brought against the officer. Additionally, if an officer has information within his possession that tends to show that the person is not responsible for committing the crime (exculpatory evidence) and that officer fails to present that information as well to the judge considering the warrant, this may also provide a situation where a case for false arrest can be maintained.
However, assuming a person is actually charged with a crime, it is very important to know that in Michigan and most other states, a person has to have a successful outcome in the underlying criminal case first, before they can maintain a case for false arrest in a civil court (a recent case by the US Supreme Court has put a wrinkle in this rule which may require a person wrongly convicted and who has appealed their conviction to file their civil case for false arrest before their conviction is overturned in the event the failure to do so would result in their claim being time barred under the statute of limitations). A finding of guilty by a judge or jury, or if one enters into a plea, even to a lesser charge, will usually act as a complete bar to the bringing of a false arrest case that arose out of those same facts later. Therefore anyone under criminal charge who believes they have been unjustly accused and who seeks to file a false arrest claim in the future needs to be absolutely sure that they are getting the best criminal representation possible. That being said, merely winning a criminal case does not automatically mean that one is entitled to win a civil suit for false arrest. The standards of proof in a criminal case area vastly different from the standards of proof in a civil case for false arrest. But that, is the subject of a future article!

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