I receive a lot of phone calls from folks who want to file a civil rights because they were wrongfully arrested. If you were wrongfully arrested in Florida you may be able to file two false arrest claims: (1) A federal civil rights claim; and (2) a state law tort claim.
The legal issue in both the federal claim and state law claim is probable cause.
A federal claim can be brought under Section 1983.
On the federal side, you have the burden of proof of showing that the law enforcement officer had no probable cause for the arrest. If an arrest is supported by probable cause, a federal or Section 1983 claim is barred.
Probable cause to arrest someone exists if at the moment of the arrest, the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which the officer had reasonably trustworthy info that was sufficient for the “prudent man” (reasonable person) would believe the suspect had committed was in the process of committing a crime.
The thing about probable cause is that it is not viewed from the standpoint of the victim, it is viewed from the standpoint of the law enforcement officer.
A Florida state law claim for false arrest.
In Florida, false arrest is defined as the unlawful restraint of a person against her will. There are 3 elements that a Plaintiff has to show:
- an unlawful detention and deprivation of liberty;
- an unreasonable detention which is not warranted by the circumstances; and
- intentional detention.
On the state side, the defendant law enforcement officer has the burden of proof showing that he or she had probable cause for the arrest.
Remember an arrest is valid if based on a warrant or probable cause.
The definition of probable cause is mushy – it is not precise.
Florida courts have said this about probable cause:
The substance of all the definitions of probable cause is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt
This means that probable cause depends on the unique facts and circumstances of each case. The courts say that we have to determine what amounts to probable cause under Florida law for the offense or crime at issue.
What you need to remember is that unless you can show that the cops lied when they got a warrant or arrested you, if you were convicted or plead guilty, you will not have a claim for false arrest.