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Suppose Bob is a news reporter who honestly reports bad things about the police chief. The police chief doesn't like it, and he wants to arrest Bob for it, but he knows he can't legally do so because Bob has protected speech. Instead, the police chief decides to find an alternative reason to arrest Bob. He digs through Bob's entire life looking for any one speck of dirt, and when he finds one, he arrests him for that (even, or especially, in a case when the dirt is so minor that Bob would not have been arrested for it otherwise). Or, if he finds no dirt at all, he just invents an accusation from thin air and arrests him for that, forcing Bob to "prove his innocence" — which is a punishment in itself.

Is there a quick name for this phenomenon? When I bring the idea up in conversation, I'm tired of calling it "They don't arrest you for X in this country, but there are so many things that have been outlawed that they can just invent a reason to arrest you for anything else, effectively subverting your right to X." I'm looking for something easy to say like "Side Arrest" or "Alternatively-Motivated Arrest" or something. If there isn't a term for it, I plan to invent one, but I want to make sure there isn't already something else in use.

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    Pretextual is often used for traffic stops, the US Supreme Court has ruled such stops legal.
    – jmoreno
    Apr 29, 2023 at 17:09
  • ABC with an agenda is useful for an array of sketchy intentions. Apr 30, 2023 at 1:23

3 Answers 3

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The Supreme Court of the United States has referred to this as a "retaliatory arrest." See for example, Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 585 U.S. ___ (2018). In Lozman, the arrested person conceded that the police had probable cause for his arrest. But he still claimed that the arrest was a violation of the First Amendment because the arrest was motivated by retaliation for protected speech.

This is a difficult claim to make out. As the Supreme Court clarified one year later in Nieves v. Bartless, 587 U.S. ___ (2019), where there is probable cause, in order to succeed in a retalitatory arrest claim, the arrested person would have to prove that it was an "atypical arrest": that they would not have arrested "otherwise similarly situated individuals not engaged in the same sort of protected speech."

If there is no probable cause for any crime, then an arrest could be "unreasonable seizure", "wrongful arrest", "false arrest", depending on whether alleging a Fourth Amendment violation or a tort. See e.g. Thompson v. Clark, 596 U.S. ___ (2022).

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That sounds like framing Bob.

Google Dictionary:

frame verb
3. INFORMAL
produce false evidence against (an innocent person) so that they appear guilty.
"he claims he was framed"

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  • Framing, I think, implies that an actual crime was committed and the evidence is arranged in such a way as to make it look like an innocent person did it. That is very slightly different from what I was looking for. In my case this is not so much about throwing the guilt of a real crime off on the wrong person as it is about harming the person whether there was a real crime or not.
    – Truth
    Mar 22 at 11:08
  • While I do realize that you do not prefer this word, someone can be framed for a crime that did not happen. Mar 24 at 11:39
  • You aren't wrong, but I'm also looking for something that covers an actual crime that the arrestee actually committed. For example, he was arrested for loitering, which he technically committed by standing in a public place, only because the police chief bears a personal grudge, and despite the fact that others were loitering and were not arrested. "Framed" doesn't really cover that.
    – Truth
    22 hours ago
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mopery, n.

OED

Etymology: < mope v. + -ery suffix.

1. U.S. The action of committing a minor or petty offence, such as loitering, etc.; contravention of a trivial or hypothetical law, esp. when used as an excuse to harass or arrest a person against whom no more serious crime can be charged.

1961 J. Heller Catch-22 (1962) viii. 74 He was formally charged with..‘indiscriminate behaviour, mopery, high treason, provoking, being a smart guy, listening to classical music, and so on’.

1994 New Yorker 21 Feb. 82/3 Gotti apparently sanctioned guilty pleas only for what he called ‘malicious mopery’—minor offenses that had nothing to do with the existence of La Cosa Nostra.

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