False Arrest and Imprisonment

Being arrested is a traumatic and frightening experience, especially if you are innocent of any wrongdoing. If you have been falsely arrested or detained against your will in San Diego, you may be able to sue to recover damages for your pain and suffering.

What is false arrest and false imprisonment?

False imprisonment is defined as intentionally depriving a person of his or her freedom (through the use of physical barriers, force, threats, fraud or deceit) without legal authority or justification.

False arrest is a type of false imprisonment that goes beyond being merely detained. If you are actually arrested, either by a peace officer or a private citizen, without a valid warrant or other legitimate reason, you may have a claim for false arrest.

A false arrest is a way of committing false imprisonment. California courts do not consider false arrest and false imprisonment to be two separate torts — or reasons to file a lawsuit. Instead, false arrest is simply a more specific form of false imprisonment.

False Imprisonment by a Peace Officer or Private Citizen

False imprisonment can be committed by either a peace officer or a private citizen. In California, a peace officer is a police officer or almost any person employed by the state, including park rangers, transit officers, correctional officers, fire marshals and welfare fraud investigators. These persons may commit false imprisonment with or without a warrant.

False imprisonment by a peace officer can be very difficult to prove. If the peace officer has a warrant, he or she is immune from liability for false arrest if the warrant appears valid on its face, if the officer believes that the person being arrested is the person named in the warrant and if the arrest is made without malice. If any of these conditions do not apply, then the officer may be responsible for committing a false arrest.

If the peace officer does not have a warrant, an arrest will be lawful only if the peace officer can show that there was reasonable cause to arrest the person, for example, if that person committed a crime in the officer’s presence or the officer believed that the person was about to commit a felony.

In California, a private person has the right to make a citizen’s arrest. These arrests occur when a private person restrains another individual or calls for a peace officer and causes a person to be subsequently arrested. If the private person making the citizen’s arrest can show that the person being arrested committed or was about to commit a crime in their presence, then the arrest is lawful.

This type of citizen’s arrest often occurs in the case of suspected shoplifters. Under California Penal Code Section 490.5, a merchant has the ability to use non-deadly force to detain a person caught shoplifting or suspected of shoplifting until police arrive. The merchant will be liable for false imprisonment only if he or she did not have a reasonable belief that the person detained had stolen or was attempting to steal merchandise.

When can I sue for false imprisonment?

Lawsuits alleging false imprisonment depend entirely on the circumstances of the imprisonment. If you are innocent of any crime and there was no reason to suspect you of any wrongdoing, you may have a case for false imprisonment. Additionally, if the circumstances of the imprisonment were unreasonable – for example, if you were injured or restrained for an excessive amount of time – you may be able to recover damages for your pain and suffering.

False imprisonment cases depend on a wide variety of factors. If you believe you have been wrongfully detained or falsely arrested, you should take advantage of a free consultation with the attorneys at Hiden, Rott & Oertle, LLP. We can review the specifics of your case and advise you on the best course of action. Call 619-296-5884 or contact us online to schedule your appointment in San Diego today.

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