Police officers and security guards are held to a high standard and are expected to perform their jobs with respect for others. Unlawful detention and false arrest are major civil rights issues, and false arrest claims deserve to be taken seriously.
Knowingly restraining another person as to substantially interfere with his or her liberty is a violation of Title 2C:13-3 of the New Jersey Statutes, and restraining another person qualifies as second-degree unlawful imprisonment under Article 135 of the New York Penal Code (which is upgraded to first-degree unlawful imprisonment if the person being detained is exposed to a risk of serious physical injury). Keep in mind that false arrest and/or unlawful detention do not require the person to be held in a physical cell or room; rather, the detainee only needs to reasonably believe that he or she is being physically restrained from leaving an area or doing something. Sometimes physical restraints are involved, but in many cases, verbal orders, lies, or threats rise to the level of unlawful detention.
Here are five basic steps to dealing with a false arrest claim:
- Handle the criminal charges: Before you can deal with your false arrest lawsuit, you must deal with any criminal charges stemming from the arrest itself. When you are released or let out on bail, consult a criminal defense attorney who can help take care of the criminal charges themselves. (In some cases, the charges against you will be dropped for lack of probable cause, which makes things much easier.)
- Obtain a police report. Looking over the official police report is the best way to see what the officers claim happened in the incident, and it will give you a chance to identify statements that don’t align with your memory of what happened. If you are formally charged with a crime, you will already have a copy of the report; if not, you will need to get a copy from the police station (sometimes at a small fee).
- Talk to witnesses. An official police report will have the names (and hopefully contact information) of any witnesses to your arrest. In certain cases, it can be helpful to track down witnesses who are not listed in the report as well. These witnesses can bolster your case by attesting to the fact there was no probable cause for your arrest.
- Talk to an experienced attorney. Once you’ve established grounds for a false arrest claim, it’s time to get an experienced attorney involved. Your attorney can help you figure out who file the claim against, whether to pursue the case in state or federal court, and how to get the process started.
- File your claim. If you choose to file a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment against New Jersey police, keep in mind that there are special rules to be followed. In a typical New Jersey personal injury case, you have two years from the date of the incident to file a claim; however, when the claim is filed against a government agency (like a police department), you must give formal notice of the claim within 90 days of the incident. After this initial notice, you must wait six months before filing a formal lawsuit. During this six-month waiting period, the police department or other government agency will most likely reach out to you to resolve your claim, at which time you can choose to accept their offer or go forward with a civil suit.