Wrongful arrest is the act of holding someone for a crime without sufficient evidence that the person actually committed the crime. While this does not necessarily cover all situations in which a person is held and later found to be innocent, since there can be reasonable suspicion and evidence to hold a person who is later released, it can often be used when someone is held without probable cause. The term is also often applied to shopkeepers or retail managers who try to detain a person for shoplifting without having actually witnessed any crime.
In different countries and regions within a country, there can be different requirements for someone to legally state that he or she was the victim of a wrongful arrest. Some countries may not even have provisions for wrongful arrest situations and in dictatorial governments or police states, arrest without any particularly strong evidence or support may be perfectly legal. Most countries that recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations, however, do acknowledge a person’s right to not be held without reason.
Outside of the abilities of law enforcement agencies, however, wrongful arrest situations typically arise in cases of business owners detaining someone suspected of committing a crime against the business or in situations of citizen's arrest. Not all countries allow for citizen's arrests, and those that do may have certain regulations regarding how it can be performed. In both France and Germany, for example, a citizen’s arrest can only be made against a person who is caught in the act of committing a crime, and the person may only be detained for a reasonable time with the intention of handing him or her over immediately to the police. France, however, makes certain provisions and a person can only be placed under citizen’s arrest for a crime that is punishable with jail time, while Germany has no such limitation.
In the United States, individual states can have different statutes regarding wrongful arrest cases and the ability for people to make a citizen’s arrest or for shopkeepers to hold a person suspected of shoplifting. Most laws only allow a business owner or manager to hold someone who is seen directly by the owner in the act of trying to steal from the business. Some states have also established laws that allow a business owner to hold someone for a short time who is reasonably believed to have stolen from the business, but only in an effort to reclaim the stolen merchandise or while waiting for police to arrive.