Police officers have difficult jobs and need broad powers to carry out their duties. However, they are not above the laws they enforce. They must give due regard to an individual’s civil rights. Unfortunately, civil rights violations by police officers are not uncommon. One of the most common of these is false arrest. A false arrest happens when a police officer (or sometimes a business) confines or detains someone against his or her will and without the authority to do so. This violates federal civil rights law as well as state common law. At Phillips & Associates, our civil rights attorneys pursue justice on behalf of New York City residents who have been victims of false arrest.Holding Law Enforcement Accountable for a False Arrest
If you are the victim of a false arrest by the NYPD, you can sue the police officer who arrested you, and in some cases a supervisor, under the federal civil rights law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or under state common law.
False arrest claims brought under § 1983 are connected to the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. A false arrest is the unreasonable seizure of someone's person. A seizure is considered unreasonable when there is a lack of probable cause to support it. In other words, a police officer must have facts and information that are sufficient to reasonably believe that the person to be arrested committed a crime. Probable cause does not necessarily mean that the person must later be found to be guilty.
If there is probable cause, this serves as a complete defense for a police officer sued for false arrest. This means that claims for false arrest brought solely because the person turns out to be innocent usually will not prevail in court. Instead, a plaintiff must show a lack of probable cause by proving that the police officer's version of events is false or that he or she acted in bad faith or that assessed the situation incorrectly.
Generally, if a plaintiff has been indicted by a grand jury or pled guilty or was convicted at trial, a Section 1983 false arrest claim will not succeed. However, if he or she can show that he or she was the victim of suppressed evidence or police perjury, it may still be possible to prevail on a false arrest claim.
The remedies available in a Section 1983 claim may include actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages against the individual police officer, and attorney's fees. However, police officers can defend themselves under the doctrine of qualified immunity. This doctrine tends to immunize police officers except in cases of clear violations. Moreover, under Section 1983, you cannot sue the municipality on the grounds that it is vicariously liable for the civil rights violation. You can only hold the city responsible if it directly violated your civil rights, such as when a police officer falsely arrested you based on an official city policy or practice.
You may be able to sue for false arrest under state common law, which allows a remedy directly against a municipality. There are strict prerequisites to suit under New York General Municipal Law § 50-e, including the requirement that you provide notice to the city within 90 days of the false arrest. Under state common law, you can use the doctrine of respondeat superior to hold the city vicariously liable for the police officer's misconduct.Discuss Police Misconduct in New York City with an Experienced Attorney
If you are subject to a false arrest or other police misconduct in New York City, you may need the help of a civil rights lawyer. At Phillips & Associates, we offer knowledgeable representation for people whose civil rights have been infringed in all five boroughs of the City, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Contact us at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form.