Any individual who comes into contact with a law enforcement officer is at risk of unlawful detainment. When an officer prevents someone from leaving a scene without probable cause of a crime being committed, that officer may be guilty of unlawful detainment. However, in order to determine whether your detainment was unlawful, you must first understand what police are and are not permitted to do while on the job.
Was My Detainment Considered Unlawful?
A police officer has the right to stop any individual for a short period of time to ask questions and gather information. This is called a consensual encounter, and it generally begins with an officer asking if someone minds answering a couple of questions. The police do not need a reason to talk to the public, but the person being questioned may decline this request and leave the area freely.
If an officer has reason to believe that a crime has been committed, they are permitted to detain the individual(s) in question to ask further questions and begin an investigation. During this time, the people being questioned are not free to leave; however, the officer must complete the investigation in a timely manner and allow those being questioned to go once the situation is resolved.
In either of these situations, if the police officer prevents an individual from leaving without probable cause to assume that they have committed a crime, that officer may have engaged in unlawful detainment.
Probable Cause vs. Suspicion
Probable cause refers to an officer’s judgment of whether sufficient evidence has been presented to indicate that an individual has committed or is going to commit a crime. If a store owner reports a theft and the police locate a masked man inside the store, they have probable cause to detain that individual. Conversely, suspicion simply describes an officer noting that something may be out of the ordinary, but with no clear indication that criminal activity is occurring. A person loitering outside of a store in the dark may arouse an officer’s suspicion that a theft is about to take place, and the officer is within their rights to stop and question that individual.
Excessively Long Detention
One of the hallmarks of unlawful detainment is an excessively long detention, or preventing a person from leaving for an extended period of time. A detention may only last as long as it takes to determine whether a crime has been committed, and no longer.
Use Of Excessive Force
An officer who utilizes more force than is necessary to resolve a situation may also be guilty not only of police brutality but also of unlawful detainment. Using physical means to keep someone at a location is not permitted, but excessive force does not necessarily need to be physical in origin. Making threats or promises in order to prevent an individual from leaving a scene also constitutes excessive force.
How To Determine If You Have An Unlawful Detainment Case
If you are unsure whether you have been a victim of unlawful detainment, there are a number of steps to take first. Gather evidence, reach out to legal counsel and file a report with the officer’s department as well.
Gather Evidence During & After Detainment
If you believe that your detainment may have been unlawful, the first thing that you should do is collect evidence as soon as possible after the incident. This may include writing down the name, badge number, or license plate number of the officer, if you remember, as well as creating a written account with as much detail as you can after the event. If you were injured, make a copy of your medical bills as well.
Acquire An Experienced Civil Rights Attorney
Next, be sure to reach out to a seasoned civil rights attorney to represent you. Police are protected from many legal consequences by a principle called qualified immunity, and seeking legal counsel significantly improves your chances of reaching a positive resolution in your case.
File A Police Misconduct Report
You should also reach out to the police officer’s department to file a misconduct report. Many law enforcement branches take misconduct very seriously and will initiate their own internal processes upon discovering the officer’s behavior.
Speak With An Experienced Civil Rights Attorney Today
If you are unsure whether you have been a victim of unlawful detainment or you would like to bring a suit against a police officer for their behavior, be sure to work with civil rights attorneys who have years of experience in cases like yours. The Brown Firm would be glad to sit down with you and discuss what happened to determine if you have a case. Reach out to speak with a professional legal expert today.