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What constitutes a false arrest?

When a police officer arrests someone, there is an assumption there is probable cause to do so. However, numerous people are falsely arrested and imprisoned every year. According to an article from the New York Post, anywhere between two and five perfect of prisoners should not be in prison. 

Although there are similarities between a false arrest and false imprisonment, there are some key differences. False arrests are far more common because they also encapsulate unlawful searches and seizures. It is important to remain aware of what constitutes a false arrest in case it ever occurs to you. 

Factors for a false arrest

Falsely arresting someone is a direct violation of the 4th Amendment. However, for the court to view a case as false arrest, certain factors must be present. First, the police officer needs to use force to detain a person. Secondly, the officer must make it clear the person cannot leave. Occasionally, an officer will ask a person to come down to the station, but this would not be a case of false arrest because the person is free to not go. Lastly, a false arrest occurs when there is no probable cause. Probable cause does not necessarily mean the person actually committed a crime, but it suggests there is enough evidence for an officer to assume the person committed a crime. 

Proving probable cause

Probable cause is intentionally ambiguous. It gives police officers enough leeway to arrest someone even if there is only a small amount of evidence to link the person with a crime. One important distinction is that probable cause needed to be in place at the time of the arrest. For example, if an officer arrested someone on a sidewalk and then later discovered that person had drug paraphernalia in his or her apartment, then an argument could be made for false arrest. In this instance, the officer would have had no way of knowing about the paraphernalia if the person was sober walking on a sidewalk. 

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