If you have been a victim of false arrest, time is of the essence. Consult with a qualified NYC civil rights attorney at Harvis & Fett LLP immediately.
It is important to understand that a false arrest by an NYPD officer violates your rights under federal, state and, potentially, city law. You could theoretically file a case in city, state or federal court. This guide is focused on federal lawsuits.
The Basics: Understanding Probable Cause
Probable cause is information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the defendant has committed a crime, or that the fruits, evidence or instrumentalities of crime can be found at a given location. If a police officer has probable cause with respect to an individual, the officer may arrest that person on the street without an arrest warrant and may search the individual incident to arrest without a search warrant.
If the police did not have probable cause to arrest you, or an arrest warrant, and the charges were dismissed, you were acquitted, or you received an ACD or the DA declined prosecution, you may have a claim for false arrest.
Step 1 - Filing Notice of Claim
Under New York State Law (GML § 50-i), the City of New York must receive written notice of all false arrest claims within 90 days of the arrest. This does not apply to federal or city claims.
The notice must be served on the NYC Comptroller and can also be filed online. An attorney can also file a notice of claim for you.
After the notice of claim is filed, a lawsuit can be filed 30 days later. The City has the option of taking testimony at a hearing called "50-h" before your case is filed. If you received notice of a 50-h, you must attend the hearing before filing your case.
Step 2 - The Lawsuit
A lawsuit under state law against a police officer and/or the City of New York for false arrest must be filed no later than one year and ninety days after the arrest, assuming a notice of claim was filed. This is a strict time limit. If the city drags its feet during the investigation process, the claimant still must abide by this deadline. (Any legitimate disputes over the city's conduct during the investigation can be addressed in court.) Accordingly, the sooner the claimant files his notice of claim and complies with the city's investigation, the better.
Assuming a person follows the notice of claim rules, he can assert false arrest claims under state law against both the individual police officer and the City of New York. The New York City Police Department is not a proper defendant.
Also, if the arrest was motivated by actual or perceived race, gender, national origin and/or religion, consider including claims under New York City's powerful Human Rights Law (§ 14-151 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York).
Significantly, under state law, the doctrine of respondeat superior applies -- meaning that the City of New York will be held vicariously (automatically) liable for the police officer's misconduct -- even if the officer himself is granted qualified immunity (a version of which also applies under state law). This is the greatest advantage of state law over federal law in civil rights cases. Indeed, it can be the difference between winning a case and receiving compensation for a false arrest and having the case thrown out by the judge.
It cannot be emphasized enough how important the filing of a proper and timely notice of claim is for a successful civil rights lawsuit. Although Section 1983 can be a powerful statute, the best strategy in these cases is to combine federal law claims and state law claims in one lawsuit.
In short, the first thing an NYPD false arrest victim should do is file a notice of claim about the incident with the NYC Comptroller's Office. It generally is a good idea to have a qualified civil rights lawyer prepare and file the notice of claim to ensure compliance with its myriad requirements.
Important: Do not wait to file the notice of claim until after the criminal proceedings have ended; otherwise the 90-day deadline may have passed and you may lose the right to pursue your claim under state law.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a false arrest, please contact Harvis & Fett LLP today.
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