Most people assume that police officers have the freedom to arrest people as they see fit. This is far from the case. If an officer arrested you, you may be able to challenge the arrest on the grounds that it was unlawful.
An arrest is lawful if the officer can justify it with the law and if he or she carried out the arrest in a proper manner. The law considers any arrest that does not meet both of these requirements “unlawful,” or “arbitrary.” Action4Justice explains three elements that may make an arrest unlawful.
Lack of grounds
In America, the police may only arrest a person if it is within the scope of the law to do so. What, though, makes an arrest one that occurs within the scope of the law? Typically, two factors make an arrest lawful.
The first is a warrant. If the police have a warrant to arrest a person suspected of a crime, they have a legal obligation to find and detain that person.
The second is a lawful purpose. Federal law generally recognizes four lawful purposes for arrest:
- To facilitate the investigation of a criminal offense
- To prevent a person or persons from committing a criminal offense
- To stop someone from escaping during a hearing
- To prevent the harm or injury of the person in question, another person or property
If an officer arrests you without a warrant, he or she must have had “reasonable grounds to believe” or a “reasonable suspicion” that you committed, were about to commit or were in the act of committing a crime.
Violation of fundamental rights
It is important to note that an arrest will always involve your deprivation of liberty, and that said deprivation is lawful if the police carry out the arrest within the scope of their powers. That said, even during a lawful arrest, the police may purposefully or accidentally violate your human or constitutional rights. This may occur if an officer arrests you for discriminatory reasons; fails to read you your rights at the time of the arrest; fails to inform you of the charges against you; and/or uses disproportionate force or threatens your life during an arrest.
Lack of due process
Finally, an arrest is unlawful if an officer fails to follow the procedural safeguards for an arrest. Common procedural safeguards include reading you your Miranda rights, informing you of the charges against you, ensuring you that you will promptly face a judicial authority, and informing a friend or family member of your arrest.