When you have been arrested illegally, the first and most important challenge is regaining your freedom. Once that happens, you may look for financial compensation for the wrong that was done to you. We are often contacted by clients looking to sue the police for wrongful arrests. The good news is that you can file a civil rights lawsuit against the police in many situations.
For starters, an illegal arrest is a violation of your Constitutional rights. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and an arrest is a seizure of your liberty interests. What can you do when your Constitutional rights have been violated?
Police Need a Warrant or Probable Cause to Make an Arrest
Police need “probable cause” to arrest you. This fact means that they need to either have seen a crime or have a reasonable basis to believe that you have committed a crime. If the police do not have probable cause or a warrant, an arrest may be a violation of your rights.
However, sometimes police arrest people based on planted evidence or falsified testimony. Police may not have cause to arrest a suspect but are doing it based on prejudice or discriminatory motives. In some cases, the police may dislike the way you are acting and make up a reason to arrest you.
Of course, you can file a complaint with the police department, but doing so will likely not get you the justice that you deserve. In order to get financial compensation for the traumatic experience that police put you through, you will likely need to file a civil rights lawsuit.
You Can File a Civil Rights Lawsuit
In this case, you would file your lawsuit in federal court under 42 USC 1983. These kinds of lawsuits are often referred to as “1983 claims.” This law gives individuals the right to sue when a government agent violates their civil rights. Section 1983 claims allow victims of police misconduct to obtain financial compensation.
Police Can Be Made to Pay Damages
If your civil rights lawsuit against the police for false arrest is successful, you can be entitled to varying types of damages. You may have suffered significant emotional trauma and humiliation because of your experience. Like other defendants, law enforcement agencies may have to pay you for pain and suffering and out-of-pocket expenses related to the illegal arrest. Police can also be responsible for personal injuries and lost wages related to an illegal arrest.
Federal law also allows you to receive punitive damages if the officer's false arrest was motivated by evil intent. Punitive damages are meant to send a message to police about the wrongfulness or egregiousness of their behavior. However, police departments can avoid civil liability, using a legal doctrine called qualified immunity. Qualified immunity essentially creates a notice requirement for liability to attach to officers—there must be ‘clearly established’ case law to show that similar facts to your case show a violation of Fourth Amendment rights.
Get to the Point: Police officers cannot violate your constitutional rights with an illegal arrest. If a violation of your Fourth Amendment right occurs, you can file a lawsuit in federal court for monetary damages. But, lawsuits against law enforcement agencies can be difficult because of qualified immunity. Talk to a civil rights attorney to discuss your case in more detail.