What is a Wrongful Arrest?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2020
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Wrongful arrest is the act of holding someone for a crime without sufficient evidence that the person actually committed the crime. While this does not necessarily cover all situations in which a person is held and later found to be innocent, since there can be reasonable suspicion and evidence to hold a person who is later released, it can often be used when someone is held without probable cause. The term is also often applied to shopkeepers or retail managers who try to detain a person for shoplifting without having actually witnessed any crime.

In different countries and regions within a country, there can be different requirements for someone to legally state that he or she was the victim of a wrongful arrest. Some countries may not even have provisions for wrongful arrest situations and in dictatorial governments or police states, arrest without any particularly strong evidence or support may be perfectly legal. Most countries that recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations, however, do acknowledge a person’s right to not be held without reason.


Outside of the abilities of law enforcement agencies, however, wrongful arrest situations typically arise in cases of business owners detaining someone suspected of committing a crime against the business or in situations of citizen's arrest. Not all countries allow for citizen's arrests, and those that do may have certain regulations regarding how it can be performed. In both France and Germany, for example, a citizen’s arrest can only be made against a person who is caught in the act of committing a crime, and the person may only be detained for a reasonable time with the intention of handing him or her over immediately to the police. France, however, makes certain provisions and a person can only be placed under citizen’s arrest for a crime that is punishable with jail time, while Germany has no such limitation.

In the United States, individual states can have different statutes regarding wrongful arrest cases and the ability for people to make a citizen’s arrest or for shopkeepers to hold a person suspected of shoplifting. Most laws only allow a business owner or manager to hold someone who is seen directly by the owner in the act of trying to steal from the business. Some states have also established laws that allow a business owner to hold someone for a short time who is reasonably believed to have stolen from the business, but only in an effort to reclaim the stolen merchandise or while waiting for police to arrive.


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Post 4

@matthewc23 - Although that does sound sensible, the problem is that it also gives store owners the right to accost and freely accuse random people of stealing things in the store and hassling people to no end.

Say you have a store owner that simply does not like kids, he could accuse them of stealing something and let them get into trouble with the cops and be let go due to lack of evidence.

Worst case scenario is the court system screws up and wrongfully convicts them of a crime they did not commit, simply because the law gave the owner freedom to accuse and detain as they saw fit.

The law benefits the accused simply because it protects innocent people from having things, such as this, happen to them and wrongful accusations, or even worse occur, which can really harm the person.

Post 3

@cardsfan27 - I would have never thought that someone could be liable for simply trying to stop someone in the act when they did something illegal.

To be honest though, I really feel this is not justice and am surprised that there are places that actually go through and punish the good samaritan for what they did.

Although wrongful arrest seems like something that is very wrong, which it is, it appears that there are technicalities to the rules and that mistakes can easily be made.

I really do not see what is wrong with someone detaining a person that they reasonably believe robbed something in their store and wait until the police come in and sort it all out.

Post 2

@jmc88 - Wow, that is really interesting and surprising that your company would back you against the wall like that, but I guess it does make sense and prevents people from being over-zealous.

In most places a citizen's arrest can only occur if the person is seen in the act and a lot of times it only applies when it is done to protect other people.

Say there is a guy with a weapon, near a crowd of people, and is willing to inflict harm, it is fully within any citizen's power to detain them and make a citizen's arrest in order to turn them over to the police, simply because it would take too long for the police to respond.

There is a fine line though, as in some places a person cannot make a citizen's arrest, say for petty theft, and there have even been cases where the citizen that made the arrest injured the person and was charged with both wrongful arrest and liable for the medical bills.

Post 1

I am a security officer and there is a certain protocol that we have to go through if we were to detain, or arrest someone.

When we make a citizen's arrest, we can only use force that is necessary and must turn them over to the police immediately.

However, because of the issues that can arise with mistakingly arresting the wrong person it becomes a major liability issue and my security company would rather us prefer not to make a citizen's arrest unless it is absolutely necessary.

It would almost be better if we simply let the people get away and tell the cops what they looked like, simply because individually the arresting officer that made the wrongful arrest is held liable for the penalties.

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