Criminal Defense

Suing The Police for Excessive Force

October 03, 2023 by Madison Ferguson in Criminal Defense  Rights  
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Suing the Police for Excessive Force

In general, an officer’s actions while on duty are shielded from legal liability through the legal principle of governmental immunity. This principle essentially states that the government cannot be sued lest it grants permission to do so. Although being stopped and questioned by the police can often be a distressing experience, as long as the officer is carrying out their duties properly, they have not violated your constitutional rights. In other words, the police are generally immune from lawsuits for reasonable actions taken while on duty.

However, federal and state laws have been enacted to permit victims of police misconduct to file lawsuits and receive monetary compensation.

Under federal law, the primary legal basis for claims of police misconduct is found in unit 42 of the U.S. Code, Section 1983. This section was initially passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which intended to guard the rights of African Americans during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. Section 1983 is significant because it establishes the right to sue an individual who violates another person’s constitutional rights while acting under the government’s authority. Not only does Section 1983 make it illegal for government officials to deprive individuals of their rights under the Constitution or federal law, but it also allows the victim to seek monetary damages.

The most common claims brought against police officers at the state level include false arrest, false incarceration, malicious prosecution, and the use of excessive or unreasonable force. Here is some information regarding some of these claims:

False Arrest – A false arrest claim typically asserts the police did not have probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause refers to having enough factual evidence for a reasonable person to believe a crime has been committed. It is important to note that a warrant is not required to arrest someone for a felony or misdemeanor offense committed in the presence of a police officer.

Malicious Prosecution – A malicious prosecution claim typically alleges that the government initiated legal proceedings against an individual without sufficient evidence. To succeed in such a claim, the complainant or plaintiff must establish four key elements:

  1. The defendant, usually a police officer, initiated a criminal proceeding against the plaintiff.
  2. The proceeding concluded in favor of the plaintiff, meaning they were not convicted.
  3. There was no probable cause to support the initiation of the proceeding.
  4. The defendant acted with malicious intent towards the plaintiff when bringing forth the proceeding.

Excessive Force – An excessive force claim asserts that a law enforcement officer’s use of force was unreasonable given the case’s specific circumstances. When evaluating such a claim, the court typically considers the degree of force employed by the officer. However, the officer’s intentions or motivations behind using force may or may not be considered. For instance, if the amount of force used was deemed reasonable, the officer’s ill intentions may not be relevant, resulting in the failure of the excessive force claim. Conversely, a viable excessive force claim may exist if the officer employed unreasonable force, even with good intentions.

Litigation for Violation of Civil Rights

Instances of civil rights violations often prompt victims to initiate legal action against police officers and police departments. Examples of such violations encompass wrongful search and seizure, unlawful arrests, wrongful conviction, and the use of excessive force. Any instance where law enforcement personnel engage in violence or take action based on race or other discriminatory factors constitutes a violation of civil rights.

To pursue a lawsuit against the police for infringing upon your civil rights, it is advisable to undertake the following steps:

  1. Assess the damages you have incurred as a result of the violation.
  2. Determine whether you intend to sue specific police officers or the entire department.
  3. Ensure that you possess sufficient evidence to substantiate your case.
  4. Seek the assistance of a legal professional to guide you through the intricacies of the legal process.

Subsequently, you and your legal representative can proceed with the lawsuit.

It is imperative to emphasize that it is unacceptable for authorities to treat individuals differently based on race, sexuality, gender, or any other protected characteristic under the law. Unless an individual poses a direct threat and engages in violent behavior, law enforcement personnel do not possess the authority to discriminate against them. If you believe your civil rights have been violated, it is possible to pursue legal action to seek redress for the distress caused.

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