False arrest is the unlawful detention or arrest of an individual without reasonable grounds or probable cause. A false arrest must be committed by someone who supposedly is acting with lawful authority, such as a police officer, whereas false imprisonment can refer to any illegal restraint or confinement. A plaintiff in a false arrest case must prove he was arrested or held against his will and that the defendant was responsible for that detention. The defendant in a false arrest case bears the burden of establishing that he had reasonable and sufficient grounds to believe that the plaintiff had committed a crime. Existence of probable cause or voluntary consent to confinement by the plaintiff nullifies a claim of false arrest.
A police offer has the authority to make an arrest under certain circumstances. If the officer has a proper warrant for the arrest of an individual, he may proceed with the arrest. For a felony arrest, the officer must have a reasonable belief that the person that he is arresting committed a felony, and he must use reasonable force in making the arrest.
Deadly force is permissible to protect the officer’s life or the lives of innocent bystanders. For a misdemeanor arrest, the officer must witness the offense or believe that the offense disturbs the peace or disrupts order. He must also use only reasonable force in making the arrest.
Private citizens may also make civil arrests under the same circumstances as the police officer. They are held to the same standards of reasonable grounds for the arrest and rational use of force. Citizens may only make civil arrests if they witness the crime and make the arrest directly or upon fresh pursuit. They are also able to restrain disturbed or mentally ill individuals if such individuals seem to pose a threat to themselves or others. False arrest claims cannot be successfully proven under these circumstances.
False arrest is a subcategory of false imprisonment, which can pertain to any circumstance under which a plaintiff suffers a curtailment of his freedom, even without physical restraint or formal walls. Some celebrities have successfully sued for false imprisonment when the paparazzi has hindered their shopping, driving, or entry into a building. Possible defenses against charges of false imprisonment are that the confinement occurred for self-defense or defense of property, investigation of stolen property, or as part of a legal arrest. Additionally, some false arrest suits may be barred when the defendant has sovereign, official, or charitable immunity, or when the defendant is a family member of the plaintiff.