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Can you sue for wrongful arrest?

Sep 6, 2022 | Criminal law

All arrests are supposed to be carried out legally, and citizens in the United States are intended to have a lot of different rights that protect them. For instance, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides protection against illegal searches and seizures. This means that you should never face a wrongful arrest.

Unfortunately, this does still happen in some cases. How does it happen and what action can you take?

When can the police arrest you?

First of all, you just need to determine if the police made a wrongful arrest or not. If they did not have probable cause and they did not have a warrant, then it was likely an illegal arrest. The police are not allowed to simply round up citizens and then determine if they’ve broken any laws. They – the officers – have to have a reason for the arrest first, and only then can it be made.

The issue with probable cause

The problem with police officers using probable cause is that it opens the door to mistakes. To get a warrant, the officer has to show in advance that the arrest is going to be deserved. But they don’t have to do this when they use probable cause. They simply have to show it after the fact, demonstrating that they had a reason for the arrest.

This means that an officer can make a mistake at a critical moment. Say that they see you run out of a store, and they assume you’re a shoplifter and arrest you. But the reality is simply that you were late for the bus, you could see it coming down the street and you were never stealing anything at all.

Maybe the officer just stereotyped you because of your age, your gender, your race or merely the area where you were trying to catch the bus. All these things happened very quickly, and the officer may not even realize the type of bias that they’re allowing to influence their thinking.

What can you do?

If you do believe that you’ve been wrongfully arrested, you need to understand all of the legal options that you have. Some people are able to sue to seek compensation, and you also may need to defend yourself against criminal charges.