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A tort (a civil wrong) that consists of an unlawful restraint of an individual's personal liberty or freedom of movement by another purporting to act according to the law.
The term false arrest is sometimes used interchangeably with that of the tort of False Imprisonment, and a false arrest is one method of committing a false imprisonment. A false arrest must be perpetrated by one who asserts that he or she is acting pursuant to legal authority, whereas a false imprisonment is any unlawful confinement. For example, if a sheriff arrests a person without any Probable Cause or reasonable basis, the sheriff has committed the torts of false arrest and false imprisonment. The sheriff has acted under the assumption of legal authority to deprive a person unlawfully of his or her liberty of movement. If, however, a driver refuses to allow a passenger to depart from a vehicle, the driver has committed the tort of false imprisonment because he or she unlawfully restrains freedom of movement. The driver has not committed false arrest, however, since he or she is not claiming to act under legal authority. A person who knowingly gives police false information in order to have someone arrested has committed the tort of Malicious Prosecution.
An action can be instituted for the damages ensuing from false arrest, such as loss of salary while imprisoned, or injury to reputation that results in a pecuniary loss to the victim. Ill will and malice are not elements of the tort, but if these factors are proven, Punitive Damages can be awarded in addition to Compensatory Damages or nominal damages.
n. physically detaining someone without the legal right to do so. Quite often this involves private security people, or other owners or employees of retail establishments who hold someone without having seen a crime commited in their presence or pretend that they are police officers. While they may be entitled to make a "citizen's arrest" they had better be sure that they have a person who has committed a crime, and they must call law enforcement officers to take over at the first opportunity. Other common false arrest situations include an arrest by a police officer of the wrong person or without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and/or without a warrant. Only when the arresting party knowingly holds someone who has not committed a crime, is the false arrest itself a crime. However, probable false arrest can be the basis of a lawsuit for damages, including mental distress and embarrassment. (See: false imprisonment)