Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Can I Sue the Police for False Arrest?

On January 7, 2023, police victim 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was “kicked, punched, smacked with a baton, shot with a stun gun and sprayed with pepper spray following a traffic stop." After being hospitalized in critical condition, he died three days later.

With the transparency and speed that news travels today, anyone who tells you that the police can do no wrong is living a pipe dream. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more common to hear stories about police officers acting unethically and sometimes illegally while performing their job duties. Holding law enforcement officers accountable isn't just about suing for money—it's about doing your civic duty to make sure the “bad boys" are held accountable to the same standards as their victims.

If you have suffered from police misconduct, such as by being the victim of a false arrest case, you may have legal justification to sue for civil rights violations and personal injuries. There are many different types of civil rights lawsuits you can bring against the police department as a result of bad behavior by law enforcement officials. These commonly arise from an arresting officer's:

  • excessive force (inappropriate use of force)
  • false arrest (unlawful or wrongful arrest)
  • unlawful detention (false imprisonment)
  • false statements (perjury)

You may have a limited time to sue, so consider getting legal advice from a civil rights attorney before it's too late. For those cops that think they're above the law, enforcing your constitutional rights against corrupt police officials is one of the best ways to remind them that their wrongful actions have consequences.

Before You Sue

Every criminal defense law office that advertises on TV or radio is famous for advising that you don't talk to the police. When police begin to question you, it is generally good practice to exercise your Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights by remaining silent until you have secured an attorney. Be respectful to the police — even if they're not treating you right — and ask for a lawyer if you're not free to leave.

This does not mean that you should resist cooperating with the police. If they ask you to identify yourself, you must do so. If they want to take you in the custody, let them do it. Do not argue or fight with the police even if you believe you are innocent and they're violating the law. Remain silent and comply.

If you want your lawsuit against the cops to be successful, save the battle for court. Never get physical, and keep the verbal part for when you're in front of the judge with a lawyer by your side.

Overcoming Immunity

The government and its employees, including police, generally have immunity from being sued. Because the law wants to encourage police to do their jobs without fear that they will be liable, they enjoy qualified immunity protections. However, under certain circumstances, the government waives this immunity in the name of accountability, justice, and fairness.

Under state law, different rules may waive or strengthen police immunity depending on the circumstances of your case. While the laws of your state may be different, many states have created laws that allow victims of police misconduct to sue individual officers or entire police departments. Even where state law may not offer you relief, federal law offers a solution:

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, also known as a Section 1983 claim, you can sue for money damages or an injunction (stop order) against the police if you can break through their qualified immunity. To do this, you must show:

  • The cop violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right.
  • A reasonable cop should have known that their conduct was violating the victim's established rights.

It may be helpful to break down various police actions that might give you grounds to sue:

Excessive Force

Police brutality is not always justified, and the Tyre Nichols incident is only the tip of the iceberg. For example, in 2012, police shot and killed a double amputee in a wheelchair for pointing a pen at them.

Unfortunately, some police officers are quick to draw their weapons and use lethal force even when there is little to no threat present. While the facts of every case are different, in general, the police's use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances.

False Arrest

This is also known as unlawful arrest or wrongful arrest, and it occurs when a cop detains and arrests a person without legal authority. If a police officer does not have probable cause to lawfully arrest you, they may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights.

For example, if a lazy police officer takes you into custody for shoplifting not because they have evidence, but because you “look the part" and they don't feel like doing an actual investigation to find the real culprit, you would have a false arrest claim against them.

Unlawful Detention

Also known as false imprisonment, this is when the police limit your freedom of movement without any legal justification whatsoever.

Whenever the police start to question you, remember that you should be cooperative in identifying yourself and even allowing them to detain you, but you should remain silent otherwise until you have a lawyer present.

You can, however, ask the police if you are being detained or arrested, and whether you are free to leave. If they disallow you from leaving and going about your business, they better have a good reason, such as probable cause. If you believe you've been unlawfully detained, continue to cooperate with the police while remaining silent, and pursue your case against them later in a court of law.

False Statements

Some police officers might totally misunderstand mottoes like “Protect and Serve," because instead of making the public feel safe, they commit perjury to “protect" their own interests and “serve" an illicit purpose. Cops have been caught lying (sometimes under oath) to justify arresting and prosecuting innocent people.

For example, recall that a false arrest may be made in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. If a police officer obtained an arrest warrant to justify detaining you, you should look into whether they made false statements to the judge in order to get that arrest warrant in the first place.

Earlier in the article, we also mentioned that other than cooperating with the police and identifying yourself, it's important for you to remain silent when they start questioning you. Sometimes a police report might (even inadvertently) contain false or misleading statements because an inexperienced, confused, or lazy police officer misconstrued the answers you gave them during questioning. This is one of the reasons why it's best to hold off on talking to cops until your attorney is present.

What can you recover?

A court may award a victim of police misconduct:

If your case is strong enough, the prosecutors in your locality might even bring a criminal case against the individual police officers that are responsible for the harm you suffered. Additionally, you may have a claim for malicious prosecution for any criminal charges that may have been unsuccessfully brought against you as a result of police corruption.

Talk to a Lawyer, Hold the Police Accountable

If you've suffered injustice under the hands of corrupt police, consider speaking with a civil rights attorney as soon as possible. By taking legal action, you may be able to receive compensation and protect others from unlawful police action.

Was this helpful?

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney to help you navigate the challenges presented by litigation.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options