While the police are here to enforce the laws, they are not above them. Their powers are not unlimited, and they can be held responsible if they break laws themselves. If you have experienced police misconduct, you have a number of options to hold both the officer and police department responsible. It could change the result of your criminal case or even give you the right to file a lawsuit yourself. For this reason, if you believe the police have violated your rights, you should discuss your situation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can.
Police Misconduct Can Take on Many Forms
There is no uniform definition of police misconduct. Police misconduct can actually be a violation of a number of laws, and there is no one-size-fits-all example. There are both state and federal laws that are at issue.
The first type of police misconduct is when they violate your legal rights in a case. This could include:
- Not reading you your legal rights
- Coercive interrogation
- Illegal searches or seizures
In most of these cases, the remedy is that you could move to have evidence thrown out or even the charges dismissed. For example, when police get evidence from an illegal interrogation, the judge could exclude it from the trial. Your lawyer could move to exclude all evidence seized in an illegal search and all other evidence that was the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” You have a limited right to sue for illegal searches.
Police misconduct pertaining to your case can go even further. This illegality could extend to your case itself. For example, you could have been arrested based on racial profiling. Police could be engaged in other corrupt acts like witness tampering and planting evidence. This type of conduct could also lead to your case being dismissed, and you have a stronger likelihood of filing a civil lawsuit against law enforcement.
Excessive Use of Force Make Up Most of the Police Misconduct Cases
The type of police misconduct that dominates the news these days is excessive use of force. Police are allowed to use a “reasonable” amount of force under the circumstances to make an arrest or defend themselves. Not every single use of force is illegal because the law contemplates that it may be necessary for police to be able to do their job. However, the law also provides that police may take it too far under some circumstances. This could include situations where they unlawfully restrain, strike or fire at a suspect.
How to Measure Whether Officers Used an Appropriate Amount of Force
There are usually three things that are used to measure the appropriate level of force used by an officer. They are:
- The severity of the crime
- The immediate threat that the suspect poses
- Whether the suspect is resisting arrest or trying to escape
Even when some or all of these factors are met, it does not give officers a blank check to use unlimited force against the suspect. The court will place itself in the shoes of a reasonable police officer dealing with the circumstances at the time instead of using hindsight to second guess. An officer can make a good-faith mistake under stressful circumstances. However, they can also go too far, well beyond what a normal police officer would have done in their shoes. This is when you can file a lawsuit.
Filing a Section 1983 Claim
Typically, lawsuits related to excessive police force are filed under federal civil rights laws. Victims can file a lawsuit against the individual police officer and the police department. The police department will almost always try to argue that the officer had immunity. However, when they go beyond the scope of their duty, they can make themselves and their department liable.
The most common claim for excessive use of force is called a Section 1983 claim. It takes its name from the relevant section of the Civil Rights Act, and it would be filed in federal court. There are a number of elements that a plaintiff must meet with a Section 1983 claim. They are:
- Your constitutional rights were violated
- The defendant acted intentionally
- The defendant acted under the “color of law”
Section 1983 is actually the primary framework that you would use to sue a police department for practically any kind of misconduct, including illegal searches and false arrests. However, if a police officer is charged with a crime in your case, they may be charged first under state law and then federal civil rights laws if they are not convicted in state court.
What to Do if You Are a Victim of Police Misconduct
If the police have acted illegally in your case, you should hire an attorney. Working with your lawyer, you may want to file a complaint against the officer who committed the act. This establishes a record of your complaint if you choose to file a lawsuit. An internal investigation may help you in a possible lawsuit. Your lawyer will help you by searching for ways to use the misconduct in your criminal case if it is still pending. Then, they will review the case with an eye towards potential litigation.
Police misconduct cases are very embarrassing for police departments that do not want the negative headlines. They may be willing to negotiate a settlement, especially if the facts of the misconduct are especially bad. Police departments may want to keep your case from going to trial. A police misconduct case often requires a legal strategy that goes beyond a lawsuit, including going to the media to marshal public opinion on your side.
Experienced Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you have been the victim of police misconduct or even find yourself facing criminal charges, you need a criminal defense attorney to fight for your legal rights. The lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff are experienced counselors who know how to fight for our clients. Contact us today at (920) 450-9800 to schedule your free initial consultation. Our lawyers are ready to help you.