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What qualifies as a false arrest?

A police officer stops you while you are walking down a Philadelphia street. The officer claims he saw you steal something from the store you just left and places you under arrest. Would that be a false arrest?

A false arrest occurs when someone is illegally restrained from freedom of movement. It does not necessarily have to include a jail cell or handcuffs. A storeowner that accuses you of shoplifting and then refuses to let you leave the store could be accused of false arrest.

However, most situations involve law enforcement officers. To prove your case, there are four elements to a false arrest. You must show:

  • The officer intended to arrest you.
  • You were aware of the arrest.
  • You did not consent to being arrested.
  • The arrest was not legally justified.

The last element is crucial in a false arrest claim. If an officer has a warrant or a court order to arrest you, then your arrest is clearly warranted and legal. A law enforcement official may also claim he or she had probable cause to arrest you, so the arrest is legal. Probable cause can be more difficult to prove.

Probable cause can be a little unclear

If an officer has sufficient reason to believe you stole from a store, this could constitute probable cause. The officer does not need to know for certain that you took something. An officer’s reasoning could hinge on the word of a store clerk or his or her own observations of your behavior.

A bad arrest does not determine your future

Police officers can make mistakes, and those mistakes may land you in jail. If you believe an error in an officer’s judgement led to your false arrest, you may want to reach out an experienced Philadelphia civil rights attorney. An attorney could gather evidence that disputes an officer’s claim and may also discredit the evidence presented by the prosecution. Do not let an unjustified arrest cloud your future.

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Philadelphia, PA 19107

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