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Sandra Bland was unlawfully arrested

I write to clear up confusion about Sandra Bland’s arrest.

Sandra Bland was unlawfully arrested.

An arrest is unlawful unless the arresting officer has probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe that the person arrested committed a crime. Reasonable grounds means an objective set of facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed. The key phrase is ‘an objective set of facts and circumstances.’ A subjective belief based on a suspicion is not sufficient.

An arrest occurs when a person’s liberty is restrained and they are not free to terminate a contact with police and leave the scene. Whether a person is under arrest depends on the totality of the circumstances. It does not depend on whether a person has been told that they are under arrest.

If we apply these legal rules to Sandra Bland’s encounter with the Texas State trooper, we can see that she was arrested when he ordered her out of her car. She was not free to terminate the contact and leave the area. The apparent basis for the arrest was her refusal to put out her cigarette and her effort to videotape the encounter with her phone. Neither act is a crime. Therefore, the trooper lacked probable cause to believe that she had committed a crime and the arrest was unlawful.

He violated her civil rights and could have been sued pursuant to 42 USC 1983.

He put her on the ground out of view of the dash cam, but a passerby managed to record part of that. The video evidence does not corroborate the trooper’s claim that she kicked him. Nevertheless, he charged her with assaulting him.

Looks to me like he made a false accusation to cover-up a bad arrest and the assault that he committed against her. He should be fired.

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.