This guy sued the police for false arrest after they arrested him for a sexual assault that he did not commit. The case arose when the victim identified plaintiff as the attacker after seeing him walking in her neighborhood; she said plaintiff "looked like" the attacker. Is that identification too uncertain for the police to think twice about arresting him? It is not.
The case is Keith v. City of New York, a summary order decided on March 7. While plaintiff says the victim did not positively identify him as the attacker, in context, her testimony suggests she gave a definitive identification. The police also contemporaneously understood that she gave a definitive identification. "There is no reason to believe that the victim was using the phrase 'looked like' to communicate uncertainty," and the Court "will not permit Keith to manufacture a genuine issue of material fact by 'reading the victim's statement out of context." In addition, there are no cases that suggest that "in order for a witness's identification of a perpetrator to provide probable cause, it must be made with complete certainty." Since the officers are seeking dismissal based on qualified immunity -- which allows them to dismiss the case if they acted reasonably under the circumstances -- a reasonable officer in this situation could have concluded that probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff for the sexual assault.
Plaintiff also sues for malicious prosecution. That claim also fails, as probable cause is a defense to that claim as well. While the probable cause test for malicious prosecution is "slightly higher than the standard for false arrest cases," information from an informed citizen accusing someone of a specific crime is enough to provide the police with probable cause. Here, after plaintiff's arrest, the victim positively identified him once again, this time during a lineup.
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Stephen Bergstein is a civil rights lawyer in Orange County, N.Y. He has briefed or argued more than 200 appeals in the state and federal courts.