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New York City False Arrest:  A Common Form of Police Misconduct

Given the recent increase in NYPD misconduct claims, different research groups are looking for new ways to gain better control of this problem. One group has suggested that we stop providing the NYPD and other police departments with the privilege of internally investigating all their own misconduct claims. At present, roughly seventy-nine percent (79%) of Americans would prefer having independent agencies handle this critical task.

Hopefully, a new approach will help decrease the numerous claims of false arrest, police brutality, false imprisonment and other wrongful police activities that infringe upon people’s constitutional rights. False arrests have now escalated to the point that they are second only to police brutality claims.

What exactly is false arrest?

Officers can be found liable for false arrest when they act without the support of adequate evidence and proper authority. Stated differently, the police are never allowed to arrest anyone when they’re acting beyond the scope of their assigned powers.

False arrest, a term often used interchangeably with wrongful arrest, can lead to an additional charge of false imprisonment. When that latter injustice occurs, a person is either held against his (or her) consent or is taken into to custody. Only under limited circumstances can police officers intentionally hold people – without their consent – in a manner that restricts their freedom.

False arrest is a crime that causes harm to an innocent party who can sue for damages in a civil lawsuit. However, the victim must have been fully aware that s/he was unable to leave the area of confinement for an actual case of false arrest to have occurred. For this reason, a suspect who sleeps off a hangover in a jail cell overnight will usually not be able to file a later claim for false arrest since s/he was likely unaware of the confinement while it took place.

Here’s additional information about key aspects of false arrest (including how kidnapping differs from it), police immunity, malicious prosecution and other related issues.

Understanding the difference between false arrest and kidnapping

Although both kidnapping and false arrest involve detaining a person without obtaining consent, kidnapping is different since additional, criminal forms of intent are usually present. A kidnapper often intends to physically harm the victim, demand ransom for the victim’s release– or to commit other felonies or crimes while detaining the victim.

In some states, the crime of kidnapping also requires that the alleged criminal move the victim from one place to another without the victim’s consent. Since false arrest usually doesn’t involve the additional types of criminal intent referenced above, it’s often referred to as a “lesser and included offense” of the crime of kidnapping.

Private individuals can also sometimes be sued for false arrest 

When a department store security guard detains a person suspected of shoplifting in a locked, back room of a store (or other area) for an extended time period, a possible claim for false arrest might later be brought against the security officer and the store if no crime was actually committed. The exact circumstances involved – including why the security guard believed s/he had the right to detain the person – will prove very pertinent in such cases.

The same type of situation can also occur when one citizen unlawfully detains another in his/her home – refusing to let the “victim” leave. 

Under what laws or legal statutes are most false arrest claims brought?

Victims normally allege that the arresting police officer, acting as a government agent under “color of state law,” made the false arrest (without consent), thereby violating the victim’s civil rights. These types of cases are usually filed under Title 42 of the U. S. Code, Section 1983.

This law was first passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. It was originally passed to help gain better control over both government officers (police) and vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan who were then grossly mistreating and oppressing African Americans and others. 

Once a complaint references Section 1983, attorneys will then often argue that their clients’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated since that amendment protects citizens against all forms of unreasonable searches and seizures. 

In addition, some cases may simply be filed as personal injury (or civil tort cases) based on a claim of either false arrest or false imprisonment.

Under what circumstances can police officers normally assume arrests are fully valid?

Police officers can usually arrest a person when they believe they have probable cause to do so. Here are a few situations that fully support this right.

  • When an individual has just committed a crime right in front of an arresting officer;
  • A privilege or legal basis exists when an officer acts upon an issued arrest warrant or court order;
  • When a police officer receives a report that someone who looks similar just committed a crime — from a source that a reasonable person would have trusted (even if the report turns out to have been false);
  • When an individual is actively interfering with an active police investigation or arrest.

While there are other fact situations that that can also confer full authority to make an arrest, those just named are among the strongest.

When can police officers claim immunity from false arrest lawsuits – and prevail?

At present, many courts still often favor the defenses police officers give for their arrests since the courts recognize that split-second decisions involving life-and-death situations must often be made that cannot always be accurately second-guessed by others in the future. 

However, since police misconduct (and brutality) are ongoing realities that must be addressed to protect individual’s valid constitutional rights, police immunity is not absolute. In fact, only under limited circumstances is complete immunity granted to police officers against claims of false arrest. 

Once a victim has presented convincing evidence that the police officer acted unreasonably – or in a willful manner (knowing that making the arrest was unjustified), all claims of immunity will likely fail. For example, when highly responsible citizens witness an event and provide accurate and condemning statements about what they saw police officers do – and/or a victim produces videos of the arrest clearly indicating physical abuse – all claims of police immunity can usually be readily overcome.

Nevertheless, courts will readily grant cops immunity when no clear evidence of abuse of their authority has been offered into evidence.

Abusive “stop and frisk” activities, the planting of evidence & malicious prosecution 


  • Stop and frisk

For far too many years in New York City and other major metropolitan areas, police officers engaged in “stop and frisk” activities that allowed them to stop just about anyone on the street by claiming that they had “reasonable” suspicions that the person might have recently been involved in criminal activity. 

However, widespread “stop and frisk” tactics had to be stopped since they often created many elements of false arrest or false imprisonment (especially when the random people interviewed were kept from their regular activities for extended time periods). When such unjustified and extended “stops” are still made today, lawsuits can be filed seeking damages.

  • Planting false evidence on or near a suspect

The planting of evidence on a person (or placing it in his car or other possessions) is another form of police misconduct that can occur during arrests and should be referenced separately when a plaintiff files a claim for damages. Unfortunately, without clear video to prove this type of offense or a statement made by another officer who witnesses this type of wrongful activity, it can be very difficult to prove in court.

  • Malicious prosecution

Police officers most often commit malicious prosecution by filing charges against arrested individuals when they know for a fact that there’s no clear evidence (or probable cause) linking the person to any crime. 

In some cases, the police arguably do this to simply harass a suspect. To prove this type of prosecution, a victim’s attorney will need to show that the case is being purposefully sought on 

an unreasonable basis. To try and bring a successful lawsuit claiming malicious prosecution, an accused suspect must wait until s/he has been proven innocent (or all related charges are dropped).

If you’ve suffered serious injuries due to false arrest or another form of New York City police misconduct, you need to immediately contact our New York City false arrest law firm. We’ll carefully investigate the facts of your case and then fight hard to win the maximum compensation available to cover all your lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses and other losses. We’re committed to helping you fully obtain the justice you’ve been denied.