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South Carolina man sues over wrongful murder arrest

Law officers must have some leeway to make judgments and carry out their investigations and peacekeeping duties. However, there are certain rules that they must follow in order to protect the freedom of citizens. Any violation of these rules can be vital to an effective criminal defense. In addition, authorities who violate these rules may be financially liable for damages.

In South Carolina, a man accused of murder charges and found not guilty has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department and the officer in charge of the investigation that lead to his arrest. On February 20, attorneys for the man filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department of Oconee County and Rory Jones, a former local police sergeant and the lead investigator on the case. The man claims that he was arrested and prosecuted for the murder of a cab driver based on false statements that police failed to investigate and confirm.

Merely arresting the wrong person, of course, is not enough to hold police officers liable for damages to the suspect. However, police must have probable cause, and in many cases, a warrant based on probable cause, in order to arrest a person. Lack of probable cause can make an arrest warrant defective and may serve as a defense in the subsequent criminal proceedings.

In this case, the police may very well not have had such probable cause. In particular, one witness reported that he saw a man who was younger and much heavier than the accused get into the victim's cab right before the murder occurred. The wrongly accused man says that being targeted for prosecution seriously damaged his reputation and caused him to suffer emotional distress. His criminal defense attorney may have given the man the opportunity to keep his freedom and seek compensation for any wrongdoing by the police.

Source: Independent Mail, "Man acquitted in Seneca murder case sues investigator," Ray Chandler, Feb. 21, 2013

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