Defining probable cause, wrongful arrests and false imprisonment

A false arrest is simply an arrest made without the legal authority to do so. When a person is taken into custody without the legal right for such an act, this is called false imprisonment. A person who is falsely imprisoned or falsely arrested can file a claim against those who violated their civil rights.

Also known as a wrongful arrest, it's important to know what to do after you have been through a false arrest. The federal anti-discrimination law states that a person arrested without probable cause is able to sue for the violation of their rights based on the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment states that all people in America retain the right to be free from unreasonable seizures and searches including arrest. Any government authority that deprives a person of their rights under the Constitution is liable for damages that result. What is most important in cases like these is being able to define the lack of probable cause.

What is probable cause and how does it affect you?

Probable cause has been redefined time and again as it became more common in trial cases. For the most part, probable cause means that an officer has more than a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to occur.

For example, if the officer sees you swerve in your vehicle, that would be probable cause to pull you over and make sure that you are okay and to prevent an accident. Similarly, an officer who smells burning coming from a building and sees someone running from the scene would have the right to stop that person. Essentially, the officer has to have a good reason to stop a person and talk with them, to detain them or arrest them.

What can you do if you've been falsely arrested or imprisoned?

You can sue if you are falsely arrested or imprisoned. If you want to seek monetary damages, you normally seek compensation from the officer or officers involved in the case. You name them twice, once by their official names and once as individuals.

Generally speaking, state agencies and the states themselves are protected against liability for monetary damages. Injunctive relief, such as asking the police department to stop arresting you wrongfully or asking for the department to retrain officers, is something you can pursue against the state or state agency.

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