The term ‘false arrest’ is often thrown about without the people using it fully understanding what it means. Like all legal principles, a false arrest has a definition included in a legislative framework. 

Certain conditions must be met for a situation to meet the criteria of false arrest. Understanding what false arrest is will help you know whether you have fallen victim to it and whether you have legal recourse in the matter.

False arrests are not limited to the police

You can be placed under false arrest by persons other than law enforcement officers. If you are unlawfully detained on suspicion of committing a crime by any individual, you can institute proceedings to seek restitution for false arrest. 

This includes a private citizen, a security guard, or any other individual. However, the majority of false arrest claims are made against the police.

What is a false arrest?

The legal criteria for a false arrest contain two elements. The first is that a person must be held against their will. The second is that the individual who took the person into custody had no reasonable or justifiable reason for doing so. It is on the second criteria that most people make the claim of false arrest against the police.

Proving that you are the victim of a false arrest

Police brutality lawyers have broken down what you would need to prove into four major elements, which are consent, consciousness, intent, and legal justification. 

If you want to pursue legal action against someone for false arrest, it will be a civil claim against the individual. The onus is on the plaintiff to prove on a balance of probabilities that they experienced a false arrest.

The elements of false arrest explained

Consent implies that the person who was detained gave their permission to do so. You need to have expressed that you did not consent to be arrested. The best course of action for a lawsuit is having a recording of what happened or documentary evidence.

To meet the element of consciousness, the plaintiff needs to prove that they were aware that they were being detained. 

Intent speaks to what the defendant’s intention was when they detained the person. If they prevented you from leaving a place or locked you in a room, their intent was to detain you.

The legal justification for a false arrest is the criterion that causes a lot of challenges in the courtroom. At, lawyers insist on a detailed version of events from their clients so that they can make a determination regarding the justifiability of the detention. 

It becomes a gray area because justification is subjective, as it is open to interpretation. The plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant had no probable cause to detain them.

The implications of a false arrest lawsuit

Should the plaintiff successfully prove that they were the victim of a false arrest, the defendant could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars settling the case. Consider the case of AT & CT v. City of New York, where a 17-hour detention cost the department $80,000 at a rate of $7,700 per hour.

Not only is there a financial cost to pay, but the reputational damage can be even worse. False arrest cases often generate a lot of press attention. The negative publicity has aggravated already strained relations between law enforcement and the public in more than one instance.

The individual who perpetrated the false arrest can lose their job. Many police departments, stores, and security companies have terminated the employment of officers who overstepped the bounds of their powers by falsely arrested someone.