False arrest is everyone’s nightmare scenario. Conviction for a false arrest is a sentence that never ends.
Today’s edition of the Tampa Bay Times features a story about a possible false arrest and false imprisonment case. In June of 1988, Leo Schofield was indicted on a first degree murder charge of his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Over the years, Schofield has tried to appeal the conviction. During the murder trial, he was offered a plea deal that would have reduced his prison time.
“I couldn’t bring myself to say I did something I didn’t do,” Schofield told the Tampa Bay Times in 2007.
This past July, a convicted murderer confessed to the Schofield killing. According to a motion filed in Polk Circuit Court, convicted murderer Jeremy Lynn Scott told Schofield’s attorney during a July 29 prison phone call that “he was sorry.”
Whether Leo Schofield’s conviction will be overturned is an open question. But Leo Schofield is not an isolated case. As a Clearwater criminal defense lawyer, I have worked on cases where my client has been falsely arrested. False arrest cases are covered under state and federal statutes, most notably the US Constitution’s 4th Amendment which guards protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In order to stop a person for questioning or investigation, police must have “reasonable suspicion” that the person has or is committing a crime. “Although the `reasonable suspicion’ standard is less demanding than probable cause, it must be more than an `inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch,” the court explained, quoting the Eleventh Circuit’s 1999 decision in United States v. Simmons.
If an arrest is made, the police must have probable cause which is understood as”information sufficient to support a reasonable belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested.” Probable cause does not mean proof beyond a reasonable doubt or proof by a preponderance of the evidence. It does not mean the person is guilty. It simply means that the police officer had a “reasonable belief” that the person committed a crime.
False arrest cases hinge on this notion of probable cause and the courts are typically generous in favor of law enforcement. If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of a false arrest or false imprisonment, contact me today.