What is False Arrest?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A false arrest is a situation in which someone is detained unlawfully. Depending on the circumstances, this charge may be changed to a false imprisonment charge, in which someone is illegally confined, or a kidnapping, in which someone is detained and transported illegally. It can be difficult to prove a false arrest charge, but if the charge can be proved, sometimes it is possible to recover punitive damages from the arresting party.

Law enforcement must be able to show probable cause before an arrest can be made legally.
Law enforcement must be able to show probable cause before an arrest can be made legally.

False arrests are considered an example of a tort, a civil crime. They are usually classified as misdemeanors. The vast majority of these charges which make their way to court are leveled against private security companies, who sometimes use threats or coercion to hold people. Rarely, a case can be brought against a police officer, and individual citizens are also liable to false arrest charges if they detain someone unlawfully.

Law enforcement officers may use different interrogating techniques to try and justify a false arrest.
Law enforcement officers may use different interrogating techniques to try and justify a false arrest.

In a false arrest, an arrest is made without legal authority. Some arrests turn out to be ill advised later, but they were made with legal authority, so they are not false arrests. For example, it is legal to arrest a felony suspect in the course of investigation; is the suspect later turns out to be innocent, the arrest is not considered false, because the arresting officer had reasonable suspicions about the suspect.

Private citizens do have the right to detain people who have committed certain crimes in some countries, and this is known as a citizen's arrest. In order for a citizen's arrest to be legal, the citizen must actually see the crime in progress, and positively identify the criminal. Furthermore, law enforcement must be called immediately to enact a formal arrest. Otherwise, a citizen may be liable to a false arrest charge.

In order for a police officer to be charged with a false arrest, he or she must knowingly detain someone who has not committed a crime. For example, if a policeman arrests the wrong person on a warrant, he or she could be charged. If a member of law enforcement detains a black shopper for no reason, the shopper could file a false arrest charge and potentially recover punitive damages for discrimination.

An arrest warrant may be unnecessary if a police officer believes he witnesses a suspect committing a crime.
An arrest warrant may be unnecessary if a police officer believes he witnesses a suspect committing a crime.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My parents' home was invaded by cops without warrants. We were sent to foster homes and a group home. My parents were told if they plead guilty they go free but don't get us back.

The greedy social workers tried lying to get us taken. After two years mom and dad finally got us back.


How can I get out of a false arrest? I was arrested for no reason. My boyfriend and I had an argument and the police were called. I was waiting outside for them to show up but they never talked to me to hear my story.

Usually when we argue and it seems like it's going to get out of hand, I will usually leave for a few hours so the situation can diffuse itself, but this time I couldn't leave because my license is suspended and can't drive (which I am in the process of fixing). Anyway, it was snowing really bad that day and no one could come and pick me up, but they arrested me anyway and said I was driving on a suspended license, which wasn't true.

My boyfriend told them that so I went to jail and had to post a $200 bond and now have to go to court. I don't need this trouble when I'm trying to fix this other case. This is unfair and unjust. Please does anyone have any suggestions on what I can do? --St. Louis, MO


Once, the law came to our house and without permission, entered. The social workers tried to frame my parents and all these comments are just the tip of the iceberg for this empire.


I took my son to the doctor on a day that I had to be in court. I did the right thing and called the courthouse and told them he was ill. They said to fax a doctor’s note. I did. Then, five weeks later, I was pulled over and told I had a warrant. I was taken to jail and had to sit there for seven hours, and when I got to court, the judge had an attitude and said I didn’t have a note.

The clerk in the courtroom looked through the papers in my file and found the note. They let me go. Can I sue for false imprisonment or false arrest? They didn’t look at the doctor’s note and filed a warrant. Because someone was stupid I had to lose seven hours of my freedom with no apology.


I have a friend who was recently arrested on two different charges. He was never read his rights, he has not been fingerprinted and the social security number on all court papers is wrong. Can we have the charges thrown out?

Also, the one charge is false because it is for child support for 2011 and 2012 and he has had custody of his daughter for the past seven years. Please help us.


I got arrested once, and signed the papers with promise to appear. Then the cops said there were errors on these papers and that they had to serve me new ones. They came to my house and asked me to step out, an I did. I said I would not sign anything until I spoke to my lawyer, and they then arrested me and took me downstairs. (not to the police station) just outside the building.

They gave me the papers I had refused to sign and let me go. Was that a false arrest? They cannot arrest me for the same thing twice, and if they made a mistake on the papers it is not my fault. I will not sign different set of papers and they cannot arrest me without a warrant for not signing the papers.


I was sentenced to do 24 hours in jail. The jail in my town agreed to let me do my "time" here instead of the original jail 200 miles away. I got told it was a "courtesy" stay and I would have to pay for staying there. On top of the $75.00 that I had to pay to the jail here, the jail here never faxed the information up to the courthouse 200 miles away. That courthouse issued a warrant for my arrest (which now costs $30 to have a bench warrant issued) and I was arrested right here in this town again for failure to comply, even though I had done my 24 hours here.

The deputies here at the jail in the town I live in never faxed the information up to the other courthouse to prove I did my time and I had to go back up to the other courthouse (200 miles away) to tell them that I had done it. I had to bring proof also. This was a needless arrest and I had to pay the bond (15 percent on a $10,000 bond) to get out of jail.


I don't understand how the police can choose who's wrong or right.

I'm writing this to let everyone know this could happen to them. My 12 year old called the law on my husband because we were arguing loudly and she got scared.

The law showed up and asked what happened. I told them we were arguing and nothing happened, and if he wanted, he could look me over.

Well, he told me that when they show up they have to arrest someone. When they showed up, my husband was in bed and I was cleaning the living room. I have no marks but they arrested him for domestic violence. How can they do that with no evidence my husband did anything wrong?

I was supposed to be the victim but i was cleaning and arranging movies with my kids. It's unjust when they can take someone with no evidence of a crime. the prosecutors are no better. they call me a witness but never want to hear what i have to say. I filed for a dismissal based on the lack of evidence, but the prosecution doesn't want to drop it. This is bull what they can do to people. I had to see my kids scream and cry as they watched their daddy be taken away.


I'm writing this for my daughter. she was arrested three years ago. They were looking for someone with her name and she was taken to jail. The case was thrown out of court, but was not closed properly and it is still haunting her. She lost her job, car, all her possessions and cannot even do volunteer work. All her attempts to get this clear has proved that there is no justice.


I was arrested after neighbors lied about me threatening an individual I'm suing. He said I was making threats towards him when it was the other way around.

The police report stated he felt I was going to do physical harm to him even though it was over an hour until he and his idiot friends called the police. The cop never listened to my side and only said: "Four people have the same story." After being arrested, I told them I was by myself walking my dogs and never came within over 50ft of this jerk.

The guy in question is a deadbeat dad to two kids and one of the mothers had a restraining order against him. He's also being sued by a collection agency for owing over $10,000 and $6,600 by me. Not to mention summary probation for assaulting a cop and resisting arrest.

I told the cops that of course he's going to try this crap because of his priors and trying to get out of everything. But I have witnesses that have come forward so it looks like it will be interesting when court day comes.


Technically anyone, any ordinary citizen, can "arrest" someone.

I just do not understand how "false arrests" actually occur. Like, how does one prove this in court? Would this not be a he said/she said thing going on?


a cobb county, ga police officer was called out to my house by a friend of my wife's. My wife hung up on her while yelling at me. no big deal.

About thirty minutes later a cop comes out to my house and my wife told him we had a dispute over finances but it was over and there was nothing physical, of course!

He said he needed to see me so he walked in my bedroom. I was already in bed (in underwear) and he told me to get up and answer a list of questions. I said no thanks but he could talk to my wife since I had to be up very early the next morning. He then drug me out of bed, scaring the heck out of me and put me under arrest.

He said I pissed him off and he's about tired of people not listening to him. I pleaded, but he took me in anyway. I thought I had the right -- plus I was in bed. I went to court and the prosecutor said plead guilty and we won't do anything to you.

I did, but when I went in front of the judge she read the report yelled at the prosecutor and said "Mister, I do not accept your guilty plea because you're not guilty of breaking any law." They threw out the case but what a hassle! But thank god for a judge who holds the police accountable as well as the public.


I had a mad CPS worker demand to look in my house without a warrant. I told her I had an appointment and asked her to leave the property (she was looking in my window). I touched her sweater and she said "don't touch me." I knew right then that she was going to lie saying I hurt her, so I left her and walked straight to my neighbor as a witness.

She had me arrested and charged with battery. It was dropped when the judge found out I had a witness, that i did not follow her to her car and grab her arm and yell at her while she was in her car (like she lied and said i did).

As if. This woman could easily legally kidnap my children. There is no way I would do what she said.


this is why I started an organization called cap metro so things like this will not go unanswered. there are things that police do that are not correct nor logical but if no one knows where to get help then they get away with it but not on my watch. las vegas has a new sheriff in town. we the people! at c.a.p. m.e.t.r.o will go the full extent to protect citizens contact us. CEO/founder of cap metro.


In early October, I was attacked and he attacker (ex boyfriend who has been ordered by the court not to come close to me) robbed me of my cell phone. I pressed charges against him and later on he was arrested. his mother asked me to drop the charges. I did. Two weeks later he went to the same police station and complained that on the same day and time, I attacked him. a corrupt police officer went longer with his lying and arrested me and detained me for no probable cause. I was the victim of domestic violence and rather be protected from the law I was intimidated by it.


a person with mental problems, a pathological liar, got together with a detective and arrested an innocent victim for something that she did not do. the mental person said to the detective that girl scratched his girlfriend's car and that she called him to bother him. He also told the detective that she was arrested before (which is not true) the detective believed him, did not check this girl's record, went to court and persuaded the district attorney to sign an arrest order. No evidence. Who can we contact? This girl is a college student to be a teacher and now her life is almost ruined. Please help.


It is really a question of money . . . if you are rich you can fight . . . the rest of us get screwed. Lawyers do not work for nothing.


The truth is they can do anything they want. The likely hood that they will be reprimanded in any way is small. You will submit to all they have to give and it will cost you thousands to exhonerate yourself. That is the business of law.


I was falsely arrested in vegas. Not only was I falsely arrested; I was falsely arrested for a crime that was not committed by anyone. What recourse does a victim of false arrest have?


There is a detective in Las Vegas who has several accounts of false arrest on rather lazy detective work. I too, was a victim of false arrest by this detective. I lost my business; my websites went down; and my health as a result of being wrongfully detained has not yet recovered. One might say that this is a good case for civil action. I have been warned that going against a bad cop for civil damages is not always good idea. Sometimes bad cops are best left alone. As is the case with most victims; I believe it best to be anonymous.


Can a Sheriff arrest someone for just looking at someone? They tried that with me.

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