CIVIL RIGHTS & POLICE MISCONDUCT

Police misconduct refers to inappropriate or illegal actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties. Police misconduct can lead to a miscarriage of justice and sometimes involves discrimination or obstruction of justice.  

A statute known as Section 1983 is the primary civil rights law victims of police misconduct rely upon. This law was originally passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which was intended to curb oppressive conduct by government and private individuals participating in vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It is now called Section 1983 because that is where the law has been published, within Title 42, of the United States Code. Section 1983 makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. The most common claims brought against police officers are false arrest (or false imprisonment), malicious prosecution, and use of excessive or unreasonable force.

False Arrest
False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of a person against her will by someone without legal authority or justification.  In fact, any person who intentionally restricts another's freedom of movement without their consent (and without legal justification) may be liable for false imprisonment.  Individuals bringing this claim assert that police violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure. The usual defense is Probable cause.  If the officer had probable cause to believe the individual had committed a crime, the arrest is reasonable and the Fourth Amendment has not been violated. Police can arrest without a warrant for a felony or misdemeanor committed in their presence. Even if the information the officer relied upon later turns out to be false, the officer is not liable if he believed it was accurate at the time of the arrest. To prevail on a false arrest claim, the victim must show that the arresting officer lacked probable cause, that is, facts sufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe that a crime had been committed.

Malicious Prosecution
An action for malicious prosecution is the remedy for baseless and malicious litigation. It is not limited to criminal prosecutions but may be brought in response to any baseless and malicious litigation or prosecution, whether criminal or civil.  To be successful with this type of claim, the victim must show four things: 1) the defendant police officer commenced a criminal proceeding; 2) the proceeding ended in the victim's favor (that is, no conviction); 3) there was no probable cause; and 4) the proceeding was brought with malice toward the victim. As with false arrest, this claim will fail if the officer had probable cause to initiate criminal proceedings.

Excessive Force
With the increasing use of Social Media and instant notification of police misconduct, Excessive force claims are steadily increasing.  The results of excessive force often involve serious physical injury or death. Whether the officer's use of force was reasonable depends on the surrounding facts and circumstances. The officer's intentions or motivations are not controlling. If the amount of force was reasonable, it doesn't matter that the officer's intentions were bad. But the reverse is also true: if the officer had good intentions, but used unreasonable force, the excessive force claim will not be dismissed.

Failure to Intervene
Officers have a duty to protect individuals from constitutional violations by fellow officers. Therefore, an officer who witnesses a fellow officer violating an individual's constitutional rights may also be liable to the victim for failing to intervene.

Police Misconduct: If You've Been Affected 

Civil rights claims are an important part of our legal system, providing a balance between the duty of law enforcement to uphold the laws, and the rights of individuals to be free from police misconduct. Yet cases against police officers can be difficult. Officers may be immune from suit, even though an individual feels he or she was mistreated. Claims against police departments can also be expensive to bring because a lot of evidence must be secured, including records, statements of police, statements of witnesses, and various other documentation, to prove the misconduct.

The evidence supporting your claim is the most important element in a police misconduct suit. If you feel you've been the victim of police misconduct, PLEASE CONTACT US promptly so that valuable evidence does not disappear. Take photographs of any injuries or damage caused by the police, and set aside clothing or other objects that was torn or stained with blood from the incident. Try to get the names and addresses or telephone numbers of anyone who may have witnessed the incident. Also, write down exactly what happened as soon as you can, so that you don't forget important details.

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