Lawful Arrest

In order to arrest someone, a law enforcement officer must have the legal right to do so. For an arrest to be lawful, police officers must have either an arrest warrant issued by a judge, or probable cause to believe that the arrestee has committed a criminal offense.

Probable cause is a reasonable belief, based on facts known to the officer, that
a crime has been or is being committed. A “false arrest” occurs where a police
officer arrests a person without the required probable cause and in the absence
of a warrant authorizing him to do so.

An individual who has been subject to a false arrest may sue the officers
responsible for the unlawful arrest in a civil rights claim. However, merely
because a police officer makes a good faith mistake, and effects an arrest
without facts sufficient for probable cause, does not automatically make the
officer liable for damages in a civil rights lawsuit.

The burden falls on the plaintiff to persuade the court that the officer was
acting without legal authority when he was arrested. This requires that the
victim of false arrest prove not only that the police officer lacked probable
cause to believe that the victim had committed a crime, but that a reasonable
officer in possession of the facts known to the arresting officer would also have
realized that the arrest was illegal. To do so, the victim may rely on the facts
and circumstances surrounding the arrest.

An individual who suspects he has been the victim of a false arrest should try to
gather the contact information of individuals who may have witnessed the
arrest, so the facts can be verified and proven at a trial.


A victim of false arrest may recover damages for any injury that was proximate
caused by the false arrest (loss of freedom, lost employment, etc.) including
injuries suffered during the time of his detention up to the issuance of
process or arraignment. A prevailing plaintiff may also recover the costs of
the lawsuit and reasonable attorney’s fees.