We've all heard of instances of police misconduct. Although the large majority of police officers do their job with justice in mind, there are always a few bad apples. If you've encountered a situation where you believe a police officer acted in an unethical or illegal manner, it can be difficult to know where to turn. You may not get anywhere making a formal complaint at the department. In this scenario, you may be considering other options, such as lawsuit. Yet, is this even possible? Find out what your civil rights are when dealing with suspected police misconduct.
The Initial Hurdle
The first problem people encounter when suing the police is a concept called immunity. Law enforcement agents are immune from being sued in the course of their duties. Therefore, you cannot merely sue a police officer for being negligent during an interaction. In order for a lawsuit to be valid, the police have to commit an act that overreaches their authority by a long-shot. This usually involves some sort of willful, illegal conduct on behalf of an officer. Immunity provides police with a lot of protection, but it is not bulletproof.
Why We Have Immunity
At first, giving an almost blanket immunity to a government agent seems like a bad thing. However, there is some logical reasoning behind it. The purpose of immunity is to facilitate the enforcement of the law. Without immunity, officers might be afraid to carry out perfectly normal law enforcement activities out of fear that a lawsuit could arise. Therefore, immunity provides some benefit to society. It helps keep citizens protected from criminal activity, and makes law enforcement much more efficient. Yet, there are still situations where the law deems such immunity as inapplicable.
Federal law provides protections for citizens who are unfairly harmed by police activities. One law in particular, Section 1983, is responsible for ensuring that the rights of private citizens are protected during police encounters and investigations. Specifically, the law makes it illegal for a state or federal law enforcement agent to violate a person's civil rights. This may occur in a few different situations. Acts such as excessive force, false imprisonment or malicious prosecution are violations. Each of these acts exceed the authority bestowed on an officer of the law.
Filing a Lawsuit
In order for a lawsuit to have legal ground, there must be a violation of a protected right. It doesn't matter whether you are being charged with felonies or misdemeanors. What needs to be shown is that the conduct surpassed the standard of reasonableness. In other words, the actions amounted to a violation of one's constitutional rights. The plaintiff must also show that there was some sort of resulting injury. Due to such strict standards, it can be hard to initiate a suit against police officers. Nonetheless, it is definitely possible to sue the police for misconduct.
If you need help with a personal injury or criminal law matter related to police misconduct, contact Spencer & Jensen. Only an experienced attorney can evaluate your case for possible causes of action.