How Do I Fight a False Arrest?

If you were the victim of false arrest, find out more about how you can fight it here in this blog from Denver criminal defense attorney Jeff Weeden. 

What is a legal arrest?

An arrest is generally made after a judge or magistrate grants a warrant to the police. The warrant authorizes the detention of an individual. Arrests may be made without warrants if the authorities have probable cause, or there are extenuating circumstances at the time of the arrest.

Probable cause means that the police officer had reasonable belief that the suspect engaged in illegal activity. It also applies to suspects that seem like they are about to do something illegal. Police officers may also arrest suspects to prevent them from escaping or destroying evidence. Warrantless arrests may be invalidated. This is in the event the police officer failed to demonstrate probable cause and/or exigent circumstances. 

What is a false arrest?

Law enforcement officers may not make arrests whenever they feel like it. They must have probable cause or a warrant to arrest someone legally. A false arrest means to restrain someone without legal justification. It is similar to unlawful detention. Unlawful detention is when a law enforcement officer restricts a person’s freedom of movement. It is a civil rights violation according to the Fourth Amendment. The fourth amendment prohibits law enforcement officials from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. 

An arrest may be legal when it begins but can become “false” or illegal as it progresses. 

Any person that detains someone without legal justification can be liable for false arrest — not just police officers. There does not need to be brutality for an arrest to be false. 

An example of a false arrest is when a police officer pulls you over for failing to signal a turn. But then he tells you you may not leave until a drug-sniffing dog arrives to search your car for illegal drugs. 

Can there be a false arrest if there is a warrant?

Even if a police officer has a warrant, an arrest can still be false or unlawful. Similarly, an arrest can be unlawful or false if the warrant was invalid. Sometimes warrants can be invalid if the judge did not have probable cause to issue them, or the information presented by the police turned out to be false. 

Arrest warrants can be invalid if:

  • There is a lack of identification of the suspect– his or her name is not stated
  • The warrant does not specify the crime for which a person is being arrested
  • It does not identify the court which issued the warrant
  • Law enforcement presented false information to the judge to prove they had probable cause

In most cases, in order to invalidate a warrant, someone must prove that a police officer made a false statement to a judge to obtain the warrant. However, if the judge still could have found there was probable cause even without the false statements by police officers, the warrant will still be valid. 

Just because there was an invalid warrant, doesn’t mean there will necessarily be a false arrest. Arresting officers may defend against false arrest claims by demonstrating that they were acting in good faith. In order to prove they were acting in good faith, they must show:

  • The warrant appeared to be valid 
  • The arresting officer had reasonable belief that the warrant was intended for the person they were arresting
  • The officer believed the warrant was valid.

What is qualified immunity?

Qualified immunity grants government officials the ability to perform certain functions without being held accountable for violating someone’s rights in the process. This prevents them from facing charges in civil court. Only in the event that a court has already found the same type of action to be unconstitutional in the past can they be held accountable. Even if their actions were unconstitutional, or they intentionally broke the law, they are still immune to civil suits. Even if another court hasn’t ruled on that specific action. 

What is an unlawful and warrantless arrest?

Law enforcement has the right to make arrests without warrants. However, the arrests must be supported with probable cause. In the event that a police officer did not have probable cause, a judge may rule that arrest as unlawful. If a victim can prove that he or she was arrested without a warrant, the officer must prove that there was probable cause to make the arrest. The most common ways a police officer can show probable cause is:

  • The suspect committed a crime in front of the officer
  • An officer had reasonable cause to believe the suspect had already committed a felony

What can victims of false arrest do?

There are four main legal options that a victim of false arrest may pursue:

  1. Victims may file a complaint against the officer that unlawfully arrested them with the individual police department.
  2. Someone who was falsely arrested may file a motion to suppress whatever evidence was obtained during or because of a false arrest. 
  3. False arrest victims may file lawsuits against the officer as well as the department and demand an injunction.
  4. Victims may file lawsuits against the officer as well as the department and demand monetary damages.

If a victim of false arrest files a complaint with the police department, the victim can demand that the arresting officer face punishments for the unlawful arrest. In extreme cases, the officer could be fired. He or she might also need to take new training, or face suspension. 

In the event that the victim did end up facing charges, he or she has the right to file a motion in order to prohibit evidence from being used against them. This is only if police found it from the false arrest. 


When a false arrest lawsuit demands an injunction, the court can order a police officer to:

  • Retrain their officers
  • Make a clear, documented change to their policies for arresting
  • Fire the officer that falsely arrested someone

Monetary damages

In a false arrest lawsuit, the victim may also demand monetary damages. The goal of seeking monetary damages, in this case, is to compensate the victim for the false arrest. It is difficult to recover monetary damages for a false arrest. This is because the person arresting you probably had qualified immunity. 

Fight against false arrest

Anyone who is facing arrest in Denver should contact an experienced Colorado criminal lawyer immediately. If you believe you are being falsely arrested, an attorney like Jeff Weeden will be able to help you fight it. If someone arrested you when you did nothing wrong, you deserve to fight back against them. Hold them accountable for their actions. A compassionate, aggressive Denver attorney like Jeff Weeden will help you explore your options. Contact us today for a free, personalized consultation.

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