Two African American Starbucks customers were arrested for nothing more than being in the store and being black. According to the New York Times, the video footage of their unlawful arrest went viral with more than 10 million youtube views. The manager of the store called the police, who quickly showed up at store, which was located in an affluent neighborhood. In what is the most recent story of racial profiling to capture the nation’s attention, the two African American men were put in handcuffs and arrested despite being there lawfully to meet with a business partner. The charges were eventually dropped for these two men and Starbucks even offered an apology, in spite of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross’ denial of any wrongdoing by the officers by stating that “They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen and instead, they got the opposite back.” Sadly, many other people of color in that neighborhood have reported that they are routinely stopped by police for random questioning and have been made to feel unwelcome in the area. Countless others are wrongfully arrested and are the targets of racial profiling every day in Philadelphia.
What is False Arrest?
Pennsylvania law defines a false arrest as either of the following:
- An arrest made by law enforcement without probable cause; or
- An arrest made by a person without privilege to do so (someone who does not work in law enforcement).
Furthermore, false imprisonment occurs when a person who has been falsely arrested is put in detention, Brockington v. City of Phila., 354 F. Supp. 2d 563, 572 n.10 (E.D. Pa. 2005).
To fully understand what false arrest is, you must also have a strong comprehension regarding probable cause. Probable cause is reasonable grounds for making an arrest. Going off of a “hunch” or “gut feeling” is not probable cause, and is often the basis for a stop and frisk or search and seizure traffic stop when the suspect has not visibly broken any laws. Such gut feelings (which are typically racially based) that law enforcement officers have about citizens who are merely going about their normal business often end in false arrests. But not all defendants are able to prove that their arrest was unwarranted.
Unlawful Search and Seizure
Evidence found during an illegal search and seizure is inadmissible in court, meaning that it cannot be used against the defendant. Police need one of the following in order to make a lawful search and seizure of items that are not in plain sight:
- The property owner’s consent to such a search;
- A search warrant;
- To make a lawful arrest before doing the search and seizure; or
- An emergency during which evidence might be lost.
Call a Philadelphia Attorney For Help Today
If you have been the victim of a false arrest, police conducted an illegal search and seizure of your property, or a law enforcement officer planted evidence on you or your property, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who will employ an aggressive strategy to help you beat the charges set against you. Call the Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin for help with your case.