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Before the Thanksgiving holiday we began discussing a new topic on the blog – our recent experiences representing clients on claims of wrongful arrest. We continue the discussion this week by considering the applicable legal standard for deciding these cases.

Under New York law, an individual will prevail on a claim of wrongful or false arrest if he/she can show that the arrest was not privileged, meaning the arrest was not based on probable cause. In New York, probable cause to arrest exists when the officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime.

As a practical matter, though, it is important to realize that police officers are generally given wide deference in the course of interpreting this legal standard. Given the pressure and stresses that law enforcement officers operate under in the normal course of doing their duty, it is not hard to understand why this should be the case. When responding to a call for assistance and making decisions in the heat of the moment of a tense situation, a judge or jury will not surprisingly be inclined to think that police officers have exercised and acted with reasonable caution.

For that reason, it invariably will require much more than a mere assertion that the police acted without reasonable caution in order to establish a case for wrongful arrest. It is all but certain that your claim will not stand up in court if it simply comes down to your word against the word of an arresting police officer, without some other form of corroborating evidence.

In fact, in the wrongful arrest cases that I have handled recently, the availability of video surveillance cameras, which provide footage contemporaneous to the arrest, has been critical in order to establish a basis for a wrongful arrest claim. Securing this corroborating evidence is one of the important tasks that a lawyer faces. Keep in mind that surveillance cameras are now frequently installed in building hallways and storefronts throughout New York City, so video evidence may be more widely available than first seems apparent.

We’ll turn our attention to claims against the police based on the use of excessive force in our next few blog posts.

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