Thousands of people in New York and around the country are released from police custody each day because officers learned that they did not commit the crimes they were linked to, but that does not mean they were falsely arrested. Police officers who arrest individuals for no good reason violate rights against unreasonable searches and seizures that are protected by the Fourth Amendment, but pursuing a civil claim for false arrest successfully is usually quite difficult.
This is because police officers are given wide latitude to perform their duties, and they are permitted to use their arrest powers in any situation where they have probable cause to believe that an individual has committed a crime, is committing a crime or is about to commit one. When these cases go to court, the reasonable suspicion standard is used to determine whether or not the officer involved had probable cause.
Qualified immunity can make pursuing a civil lawsuit after a false arrest difficult or impossible even if the arresting officer lacked probable cause. This is a kind of legal immunity that is designed to protect police officers and other government agents from harassment. However, individuals who are falsely arrested in New York may not have to worry about this legal hurdle. That is because the New York City Council passed legislation in April 2021 that greatly limited qualified immunity in false arrest and excessive force cases.
The burden of proof
When false arrest cases are argued in front of a jury, the burden of proof that the plaintiff must meet is not as strict as it would be in a criminal trial. In order to prevail, they only have to establish that their allegations are more likely true than false. In a criminal trial, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of this, most false arrest cases that do proceed are settled quickly.