When a citizen is detained, and an officer acts under the assumption of legal authority to prevent them liberty of movement while conducting a search of their person or property, is one example of abuse of the Fourth Amendment . In order for the officer to conduct a search, or detain a person, there must be probable cause that the person has acted illegally.
While the majority of officers follow the laws they are sworn to uphold, there are pockets of jurisdictions where abuses occur on a regular basis. One such report from Evangeline Parish in Louisiana tells of arrests being made based on hunches, with citizens being detained, searched, and kept from contacting family or attorneys.
The procedures practiced in Evangeline Parish were justified by officers as a way to get information about other crimes from someone they “suspected” might know something, and has been going on for a very long time. In fact, anyone in the area could be held or arrested giving rise to the possibility of a false confession and potentially being wrongfully convicted, blatantly violating their Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.
False Arrest or Human Error?
Officers are human, mistakes can made, and there are specific requirements in place to determine whether a false arrest has been made.
The first requirement is that the officer used force or show of authority to restrain the citizen. This means that the person who arrests you must claim to be an officer or to have the authority to arrest you. An example of meeting this first requirement would be a sworn police officer arresting a shoplifter.
The second requirement is that the you must believe that you are not free to leave. This means that you must feel you have no choice except to do what the officer asks. For example, if the officer places you in handcuffs or locks you in a room then you obviously are not free to leave. But if the officer asks you to come voluntarily or mentions that you are not under arrest, you do not have to go with them. If you do, then you may have a difficult time proving false arrest.
The third requirement is that the officer intentionally restricted your freedom of movement without probable cause. In other words, the officer meant to arrest you knowing that there was no legitimate reason to arrest you. (FreeAdvice, Legal)
In recent years, more police jurisdictions are calling for accountability of those officers who abuse their authority and cost agencies large sums of money in civil liability lawsuits.
One organization, The National Police Accountability (NPAP), was started with the intention of ending law enforcement’s abuse of authority and gives guidance and support to groups fighting police misconduct.
As well deserved large settlements are paid to exonerees who were wrongfully convicted, and those falsely arrested, the general public is becoming outraged, sparking demonstrations and protests, and yet, the practice continues.
We are proud to live in a country which supports a Constitutional amendment to protect its citizens from illegal search and seizure, however, when blatant abuse of this protective amendment happens, it weakens the position of the very people who should be safeguarded.
One key to preventing wrongful convictions is to hold the officers and prosecutors accountable. Their unlawful behavior makes the honest, hardworking, dedicated ones look bad.
(*photo from Flickr Media Commons)
Management Resources of New York is a professional investigative firm licensed in New York and New Jersey, members of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Associated Licensed Detectives of New York, and Founding Members and Regional Directors of Investigating Innocence.
Bob Rahn and Kim Anklin are available for interviews or speaking engagements.Contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-08509 or email firstname.lastname@example.org