Law enforcement officers are only human, and they are as prone to mistakes and occasional poor judgment as the rest of us. Most of the time, those minor mistakes are easily fixed. Sometimes, however, they can result in the wrongful arrest of someone who committed no crime. Getting arrested when you shouldn't be is humiliating. It can impact your social relationships, your job and even your mental and physical health.
Wrongful arrest happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's intentional, other times it's the result of a mistake. It can cause bodily harm, as well as emotional and social damage to the person arrested illegally. Wrongful arrest can contribute to a criminal defense strategy or even result in a lawsuit against local law enforcement. Knowing your rights, like when police can arrest you or when they can search your home, helps you protect them.
What is wrongful arrest?
At its most basic, wrongful arrest means keeping someone from exercising bodily freedom. Many times this means securing people's arms or otherwise detaining them physically without the legal right to do so. Citizens can make arrests in emergency situations, but only if that person directly witnessed a crime. Detaining, restraining or imprisoning someone without legal cause is absolutely against the law.
Law enforcement can also commit wrongful arrest. It's possible that an officer mistakes one person for another and places the wrong person in custody, despite his or her objections. Sometimes, law enforcement will arrest those who have not committed a crime for questionable reasons, such as to assert personal authority or cover up wrongdoing by an officer or other individual. In those cases, although the officer had legal authority to make arrests, the arrest made was unlawful.
Can you resist unlawful arrest?
You may feel tempted to flee or otherwise physically resist when subject to a wrongful arrest. That is a perfectly natural response. Unfortunately, this can complicate your legal situation, by adding the possibility of resisting arrest charges to the mix. It is often safer to submit to arrest and advocate for your rights later. Although unlawful arrest can have serious consequences, so can being physically subdued by law enforcement.
Sometimes, however, the person subject to arrest could fear for his or her life. Perhaps the officers involved have made threats, or maybe they have committed crimes they don't wish to answer for. Maybe the officers have a reputation for excessive force.
Although doing so can be risky, individuals do have the legal right to resist arrest physically so long as they believe there is a threat greater than the temporary loss of their freedom at stake. In situations where the person experiencing a wrongful arrest fears for his or her safety, resisting the wrongful arrest could be a form of self defense.