Monday, August 3, 2009

Was Dr. Gates’ Arrest Justified?

Criminal Defense, False Arrest, Fourth Amendment, Police MisconductSome people think that Professor Henry Louis Gates’ arrest was justified because of the way he responded to the police officers who arrived at his home to investigate a suspected burglary . These sorts of situations are nothing new. We all know somebody who has been arrested under suspect circumstances. However, when is an arrest unjustified in the eyes of the law?

According to the Fourth Amendment, a person can only be arrested if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed a crime. Of course, this doesn’t clarify much at all because probable cause is a difficult concept to define. It is not a concrete idea, and its definition almost changes on a constant basis because no two situations are ever exactly the same. Nevertheless, the courts have generally defined probable cause as a reasonable ground of suspicion sufficient to warrant the cautious man to believe the accused is guilty of the offense. Now, you’re probably thinking that if Prof. Gates was arrested without probable cause his arrest is unjustified; therefore, he could sue the police for false arrest.

I’m saddened to say that is not the case. According to the current state of the law if a police officer is able to demonstrate he/she had arguable probable cause for an arrest, the accused does not have a false arrest claim against the officer. Taking into account this imprecise standard, it’s probably a safe bet to assume Dr. Gates will not be a successful plaintiff anytime soon.

Clearly, false arrests are difficult to understand. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area and believe you were falsely arrested, call my office so we can help you understand whether or not your civil rights have been violated.