False Arrest and False Imprisonment Distinguished

If the police arrest someone in bad faith, that person may (sometimes) be able to sue for false arrest. If anyone improperly restricts someone’s movements to a small area, they may be sued for false imprisonment. A recent case from Oregon illustrates the difference.

The New York City police notified an Oregon sheriff’s department of a suspected fugitive and forwarded an arrest warrant from New York. The sheriff promptly had the person named in the warrant arrested. Six hours later, the state police reported that the person the sheriff arrested was not the New York suspect. Her fingerprints didn’t match. The sheriff still held the person overnight, without informing her lawyer or the judge at an arraignment that the prints didn’t match.

After the sheriff eventually released the arrested person, she sued the county for false arrest and false imprisonment. The judge ruled that because the sheriff was acting in response to a valid warrant, the arrested person had no claim for false arrest. The judge did allow the false imprisonment claim to go to trial, and the jury awarded $101,500.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling. The dismissal of the false arrest claim did not cancel the false imprisonment claim because the false imprisonment claim wasn’t just about the arrest. It was also about the failure to promptly release the arrested person once the sheriff’s office knew they had the wrong person. It also ruled that the county wasn’t immune from suit for acting based on court orders because the sheriff’s office knew the orders were based on incorrect information.

If you think you have been wrongly held, you may want to talk to a lawyer about it. If you do, you should bring as much information as possible to help the lawyer analyze all of the possible variations of the situation.

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