Can I sue a police officer for false arrest?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident law decisions. Finding trusted and reliable legal advice should be easy. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
You can sue a cop for false arrest, but such lawsuits tend to be difficult to win. Most states protect their officers from such suits with what is called “investigatorial immunity.” As long as an officer is acting reasonably in their employment, their actions, even if mistaken in the end, are protected from civil suit.
Essentially, most states would rather that their officer ere on the side of caution and make an arrest. For example, if your girlfriend calls the police and alleges that you assaulted her and the officer notices bruising consistent with an assault, the officer can arrest you for assault family violence. If it is later discovered that she had fallen at work and was using the bruising as an opportunity to file on you, the officer will not be subject to a suit for false arrest because his actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Though false arrest cases are tough to win, investigatorial immunity does not mean that officers simply have a blank check to arrest people without cause.
How to Fight a False Arrest
A false arrest that was made without any proper legal authority can be subject to a civil suit for unlawful restraint and a violation of your civil liberties. Depending on the rules of your state, you may want to file an action in federal or state court. In either court, you have the burden of proof to show that you were falsely arrested and that the officer acted without any legal authority. Often this is a hard burden to overcome since an officer can usually show probable cause with minimal evidence. The burden is not impossible though. If you can show that there was no basis for an arrest or that the officer was acting maliciously or discriminatorily, you will have a better chance at succeeding in your cause of action. A common example of a false arrest situation is where an officer may arrest a black kid suspected of shoplifting, with no real suspicion that the kid did anything wrong, just because he may have been the only black kid in the store.
Getting Help - False Arrest
The frustration for people who want to sue for false arrest is that the lawsuit is in another court (civil), a different judge, usually a different lawyer, there are dramatically different rules of procedure (compared with criminal cases), and the case can take longer to resolve. You are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, but instead have to hire your own attorney and pay filing fees. Before you file a lawsuit for false arrest against an officer, consult with a civil rights attorney and a criminal attorney to review the facts of your case and explore all of the options available in your jurisdiction.