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September 2, 2022

What Should You Do After a Wrongful Arrest?

An experienced civil rights lawyer knows how to file a false arrest lawsuit on your behalf. A successful false arrest lawsuit can clear your name.‍

Imagine living in a country where any police officer or government agent could pull you randomly off the street and incarcerate you with no justification, just because they “didn’t like your looks”. Such societies do exist in this world, and this is just the kind of society that our Founding Fathers sought to prevent.

Any arrest is a distressing occurrence. A wrongful arrest, however, is nothing less than an outrage. Although the police do not violate your civil rights by making an honest mistake, some arrests are genuinely wrongful and demand redress.  

Fortunately, you don’t have to sit meekly while the government tramples on your rights. An experienced civil rights lawyer such as Alan J. Tauber knows how to file a false arrest lawsuit on your behalf. He can even visit you in jail. A successful false arrest lawsuit can clear your name and provide you with financial compensation as well.

What Is a False Arrest?

Wrongful arrest law is based on the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, 42 USC 1983, and Supreme Court decisions interpreting these laws. The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable search and seizure, and an arrest is the seizure of a person. The US Supreme Court has decided that the government (including the police) cannot arrest people arbitrarily. The government cannot legally arrest you without a good reason to believe that you have committed a crime.

Finally, 42 USC 1983 gives you the right to sue a government official for violating your constitutional rights by arbitrarily arresting you.

Can You Resist a False Arrest?

false arrest lawsuit

When you are facing a false arrest by the police, do you have the right to resist arrest? In Pennsylvania the answer is yes, you do have the right to resist an unlawful arrest through the use of reasonable force. It is risky, however. If a court later decides that the arrest was lawful, the state might charge you with resisting arrest, which is a serious offense.

Unless you are sure that the “officer” is a thief seeking to search you to relieve you of your wallet, your best bet is usually to comply with the arrest and contact an attorney to help you fight back later.

Probable Cause and Unlawful Arrest

Suing for wrongful arrest is an act that you must carefully consider in advance, after consulting with an experienced civil rights lawyer. The key question is whether the officer had “probable cause” to arrest you. If they lacked probable cause, you have a good case for wrongful arrest. If they did have probable cause, however, you probably have no case for wrongful arrest, although you might have a case for other civil rights violations.

The key question is whether the officer, given the facts known at the time, had good reason to believe that they committed a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are innocent or guilty, and it doesn’t even matter whether the officer subjectively believed you were guilty. All that matters is whether the officer had enough evidence to convince a “reasonable officer” of your guilt. Actually pleading guilty can ruin your case.

Can You Sue for Being Wrongfully Arrested?

Can you sue for unlawful arrest? In a word, yes, If you sue the police for wrongful arrest, you don’t have to prove that the arrest was wrongful. Instead, it is the police who must prove that they acted appropriately. To conduct a lawful arrest, the police must:

  • Have probable cause in advance (they cannot arrest you arbitrarily, search you, find evidence of a crime, and use that evidence to establish probable cause retroactively);
  • Identify themselves as the police, so that you know you aren’t being robbed, for example;
  • Inform you that they are placing you under arrest;
  • Tell you what crime they are arresting you for;
  • Explain why they find it necessary to arrest you;
  • Inform you that you are not free to leave.

You can use any failure in the foregoing procedures to file a claim for wrongful arrest.

Wrongful Arrest Compensation

attorney for false arrest

Many states have specific laws providing compensation for people who suffered wrongful behavior by the judicial system. If federal authorities wrongfully incarcerate you, for example, you can claim $50,000 per year of incarceration and $100,000 per year on death row. Shockingly, Pennsylvania does not have any specific law providing compensation for wrongful arrest or detention.

Nevertheless, a wrongful arrest is still a violation of your federal constitutional rights and you can pursue compensation in federal court for this offense. You can sue both the individuals who acted against you and the government agency responsible.

You might wonder “How much can I sue for false arrest?” This question is impossible to answer without knowing the facts of your case because the average settlement for wrongful arrest varies greatly.

The Impact of a Wrongful Arrest

If you file an unlawful arrest lawsuit, you should claim compensation for the following losses, to the extent that you suffered them:

  • Humiliation;
  • Damage to your reputation;
  • Unlawful detention;
  • Lost wages;
  • Punitive damages;
  • Malicious prosecution;
  • Wrongful conviction;
  • Physical harm resulting from your arrest and detention.

You should also take action to have the arrest itself removed from your criminal record because even a charge without a conviction could seriously damage your life.

What Are Your Rights If the Police Wrongfully Arrest You?

If you are wrongfully arrested in Pennsylvania, you have the right to resist with “reasonable force”, and you have the right to file a lawsuit against the parties responsible. You also have the following rights:

  • Humane treatment;
  • Adequate medical attention;
  • Private consultations with a lawyer;
  • Written notification of your rights;
  • Notification to at least one other person informing them of your arrest (although you don’t necessarily have the right to make the phone call yourself);

The police must release you within 24 to 36 hours of your arrest (depending on the seriousness of the crime)

Who Do You Sue in a False Arrest Case?

wrongful arrest compensation

There are two types of remedies you can seek in a lawsuit–monetary compensation for wrongful arrest, and injunctive relief. If you are seeking only money damages, you must sue the individuals responsible for the false arrest (the police officers, for example). You must sue these individuals twice apiece – one in their individual capacity, and once more as a representative of the government.

You may also seek injunctive relief, in the form of a court order commanding the government to stop performing an action that violates your civil rights (setting up DUI roadblocks only in minority neighborhoods, for example). If you seek injunctive relief, you must sue the particular government agency whose actions you wish to restrain.

What Is the Timescale for Pursuing a Wrongful Arrest Claim?

Even if you are suing for a violation of your federal constitutional rights, it is the state statute of limitations that determines how much time you have to either file a lawsuit or permanently abandon your claim. Pennsylvania allows you two years to file such a lawsuit.

The two-year time clock begins ticking from the moment you are released from custody and are free to go. Certain exceptions exist, and determining the exact statute of limitations deadline can be tricky. Consult a civil rights lawyer on this matter.


Don’t try to talk your way out of a false arrest. You could dig yourself into an even deeper hole that way. An experienced attorney for false arrest will know how to handle the situation from start to finish. Call Alan J. Tauber at (215) 575-0702 or contact us online.

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