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12/29/93 DISTRICT COLUMBIA v. PAUL MURPHY

December 29, 1993

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT
v.
PAUL MURPHY, APPELLEE



Before: Ferren, Farrell, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren

ON PETITION FOR REHEARING

FERREN, Associate Judge: The District, petitioning for rehearing, contends that we erred in affirming the judgment on the jury's verdict awarding Murphy $260,000 in damages on his claim for false arrest. See District of Columbia v. Murphy, 631 A.2d 34 (D.C. 1993).

I.

The District argues that we erroneously based our decision exclusively upon our Conclusions from the record that (1) the jury reasonably could have found that the police officer defendants lacked a reasonable, good faith belief that their conduct was lawful, and that (2) the officers accordingly lacked a defense to Murphy's false arrest claim. In making this argument the District notes, first, that a police officer's good faith, reasonable belief in the lawfulness of his or her conduct -- substantially a subjective test -- is not the only defense to a false arrest claim. According to the District, an objective basis for a finding of probable cause will also supply a defense to false arrest, even though a police officer may not he aware of all the facts objectively justifying probable cause. The District then argues that the record shows, without contradiction, that Mary Young, the lawful occupant of the apartment, had asked Murphy to leave before the police came, and that Murphy had refused to leave. These facts, according to the District, established the elements of the crime of unlawful entry and thus, as a matter of law, established an objective basis for a finding of probable cause that served as a complete defense.

The District is correct on the law, but its argument fails. As noted in our opinion, there was a factual dispute of record as to whether Mary Young had told the arresting officers she had asked Murphy to leave; thus, there was a jury question as to whether the officers had a reasonable, good faith belief that their conduct, in forcing Murphy out of the apartment, was lawful. See Murphy, 631 A.2d at 38-39. Similarly, as also indicated in our opinion, see id. at 38 -- and as elaborated below -- there is a factual dispute as to whether, objectively speaking, the police officer defendants had probable cause to arrest for unlawful entry; i.e., there is a dispute as to whether Young had asked Murphy to leave before the police arrived.

II.

Before examining the facts of record, we believe it is important to note why, in the division's opinion, we analyzed probable cause primarily by reference to the "reasonable, good faith belief" standard and not, in addition, by reference to the objective standard the District emphasizes now.

At trial, the court instructed the jury with respect to false arrest as follows:

Now, there's a claim before you for consideration of false arrest and false imprisonment. Arrest occurs when a person is restrained or detained by one or more other persons against his will. It may occur by actual physical force. Examples of such force include holding or handcuffing a person or locking a room. An arrest may also occur by the use of threats of force against another person. If a person is detained or restrained for any length of time by force or by threat, then he is arrested.

An arrest is called a false arrest if there is not sufficient legal justification for the arrest. A police officer has legal justification to arrest a person when he reasonably believes, in good faith, that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.

Thus, in this case, if you find that the officers had reason to believe and honestly did believe that the Plaintiff had committed, or was committing or was about to commit the crime of unlawful entry or assault, then the officers would have sufficient legal justification to arrest the Plaintiff.

Now, an unlawful entry is the entry upon premises knowing that you don't have the permission to do so, or remaining on premises after you have been told by the person lawfully in charge of them that you should no longer remain there.

You are instructed that the amount of force that a police officer may use to arrest a person, and to maintain the person so arrested, is that force which is reasonably necessary. I further advise [you that] it is the law in this city that a person being arrested may not resist a police officer, even when there is no sufficient legal justification for the arrest. However, an officer is not ...


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