NJ case shows poor police practices may contribute to wrongful arrests

Wrongful arrests can have serious emotional, financial and legal consequences. Arrest records and criminal charges can affect a person's ability to find work, housing and more, even if the person is not ultimately convicted. Many people in Hackensack may believe the risk of false arrests or wrongful charges is trivial. However, a case that recently prompted a civil lawsuit reveals how easily wrongful arrests can occur when authorities take shortcuts or ignore proper protocol.

Man wrongly held for six months

In September 2012, New Jersey law enforcement authorities arrested a man from Atlanta on murder charges, according to WSBTV News. The man was held for one month in a local jail before being moved to a New Jersey jail for five months.

The man told authorities that he had never been to New Jersey and he had records from work to prove he could not have been in the state when the murder took place. Sadly, the man's side of the story was not investigated until he wrote a letter to a judge.

Besides failing to check the man's alibi, authorities had little evidence to support the initial arrest. WSBTV News describes the following issues with the evidence in this particular case:

  • Authorities did not have any travel records or phone records to tie the man to the crime.
  • DNA evidence from the crime did not match the man's DNA.
  • The man was identified only based on statements from witnesses at a New Jersey club, who stated that they heard the man talking about avoiding a past conviction for murder in Atlanta.
  • Police identified the man as a person of interest primarily because he had been wrongly charged with and acquitted of murder in Atlanta in 2007.

Fortunately, the man was released after authorities reviewed the evidence supporting his innocence.

The toll of wrongful confinement

This isn't the only example of a wrongful New Jersey arrest going uncorrected for an extended period of time. One man spent over a year in custody after being arrested for murder based on identifications that witnesses were coerced into making, according to a Star-Ledger article. In a civil trial, one of the arresting officers was later found guilty of maliciously imprisoning the man and inflicting intentional emotional distress.

Aside from emotional distress, wrongful arrests can have serious consequences. Victims may lose their jobs or homes, and personal relationships may suffer. Victims can seek compensation from the relevant authorities, as the people in these two cases did, but this may not fully address the many costs of prolonged detainment. This means wrongful arrest victims should be vigilant about protecting their rights from the time they are initially arrested.

Defending against wrongful arrests

Anyone who has been arrested and accused of a crime in New Jersey, regardless of the circumstances, should meet with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. People who have been released after such an arrest may also benefit from speaking with an attorney about sealing or expunging the records of the arrest or charges.