Wrongful arrests may seem dramatic scenarios – occasions where handcuffs are roughly applied to perps followed by a quick trip to the cop shop and an intense interrogation. But a wrongful arrest is not always as dramatic as this. In fact, it can be as simple as being unexpectedly stopped from going about your business.

In this blog, the team at Paramount look at wrongful arrests in more detail, using a recent case in New South Wales as an example.

Sam Le’s unlawful arrest

In March of 2017, Sam Le was detained at Chippendale train station after officers suspected he stole the concession card he was using. Mr Le, just 24 at the time, had a legitimate reason to be using the concession card, but was nonetheless believed by the officers to be young and fit and not fitting of a card.

The transcript that was recorded by the plaintiff demonstrated effectively that he was not allowed to move from the spot where he had been stopped by the officers, despite him missing his train. The following excerpt demonstrates how Mr Le was forbidden from moving until the officers believed their work was done:

Willey: That’s fine. Until we finish here you’re not leaving.

Le: Am I under arrest?

Willey: No you’re not, you’re being detained.

Le: What for?

Willey: To confirm that this is you, that this card isn’t stolen.

The dispute continued for 4 and a half minutes before Me Le was told he was free to go. After this incident, Mr Le took the state of NSW to the district court and claimed victory, winning $3000. The judge in this case assessed that although the officer had an honest suspicion, the belief that the concession card was stolen was on tenuous grounds.

Although Mr Le was forced to hand over photo identification, cases such as this only warrant that commuters only hand over an Opal card and a concession card if they are asked to show identification.

What to do in cases of your own wrongful arrest

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been wrongfully arrested or detained, it’s important to consider your options. As the above example suggests, wrongful arrest can be the simple detainment of a citizen by police when they have no right to do so, which means you don’t even have to be transported to a police station.

According to the actions against police legal aid conference in 2012, wrongful arrest cases can be pursued against police officers after these specific circumstances:

  • following the successful defence and acquittal of clients in relation to criminal charges, where the lawfulness of police conduct was raised and determined by a finding against police, or
  • in circumstances where charges are dismissed prior to hearing and where the conduct of police upon arrest and detention may have been unlawful, and/or the prosecution malicious.

A wrongful arrest allows an individual to then pursue action against the police for trespass against their person – trespass in this instance refers to any interference with the civil right to security of both a person and self.

The three types of trespass are defined as being:

  • Unlawful imprisonment (false or wrongful imprisonment);
  • Battery; and
  • Assault.

Trespass is thus not entirely clear cut and can require a very complex legal assessment depending on the circumstances.

Have you experienced an unlawful arrest before?

If you have experienced anincident similar tothe one we’ve demonstrated in this blog, or if you believe you’ve experienced something similar that could be classified as a wrongful arrest, get in touch with the team at Paramount today. We’re here to make sure you get the best legal advice possible every step of the way.

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