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Law Enforcement Misconduct

What is Police Misconduct?

Law enforcement officers have broad power to enforce the laws of our country. It is important to note, however, that police misconduct laws as well as the Constitution place limits on those powers.

If law enforcement officers abuse their powers, they may face both criminal penalties and civil liability. One type of police misconduct occurs when a law enforcement officer violates an individual's constitutional rights.

An individual whose constitutional rights were violated by a law enforcement officer may be able to file a civil lawsuit that seeks compensatory damages, or money compensation. Law enforcement officers may commit misconduct whether they are on duty or off duty.

If the law enforcement officer is acting, or claims to act, in their official capacity, police misconduct may be claimed if they commit a criminal offense or violate an individual's constitutional rights. Law enforcement officers may engage in misconduct if they fail to follow the proper procedures which are designated by the police department for which they work.

Examples of conduct which may form the basis for a claim of misconduct include:

  • Abusing citizens in the court of performing their duties;
  • This may include verbal or emotional abuse;
  • Using excessive force; and
  • Requesting a bribe.

Police brutality may arise if a law enforcement officer uses more force than the situation requires. Law enforcement officers should only use the minimum amount of force that is necessary to:

  • Handle the individual who is being arrested;
  • Stop the incident from taking pace; or
  • Protecting themselves or others from harm.

If the law enforcement officer uses more than the minimum force which is necessary, that officer has used excessive force. One example of excessive force would be if a law enforcement officer pushes a suspect who is handcuffed or who is not resisting commands.

There are numerous state and federal police misconduct laws which may apply to specific instances of police misconduct. Depending upon the nature of the misconduct, the remedies for police misconduct may include:

  • Filing a complaint with the police department;
  • Filing a complaint with the office of the district attorney in the jurisdiction where the misconduct occurred; or
  • Filing and complaint for damages in state or federal court.

What is Civil Police Misconduct?

Federal laws make it illegal for any individual acting under the authority of the law in any state to deprive an individual of their rights under the United States Constitution or federal law. For example, if a law enforcement officer who plants drugs on an individual or in their vehicle in order to arrest them for possession of a controlled substance has deprived the individual of their right not to be arrested without probable cause.

Additionally, the law enforcement officer may be subject to a criminal charge of false arrest. If a law enforcement officer violates an individual's rights under the Constitution or federal law, that individual may file a civil lawsuit that seeks damages in court.

There are, however, numerous requirements which must be met before a claim of this type can be successful. It may be challenging to establish that a right exists or that the individual who deprived the other individual of their right was acting “under color of law,” a technical legal term.

An individual who is seeking relief under federal law for police misconduct should note that the 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides limited immunity to law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity with state authority. An individual who believes that a law enforcement officer has deprived them of a Constitutional right should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to analyze the claimed misconduct and review available options.

Criminal Police Misconduct

Police whose actions violate state or federal criminal statutes can be guilty of a crime, even if the officer was acting in their official capacity at the time. 

There are many possible examples of criminal police misconduct, including;

  • Bribery; 
  • Extortion;
  • Receiving or fencing stolen property;
  • Selling drugs;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Intentional false arrest;
  • Intentional fabrication of evidence or evidence tampering.

If a police officer is charged with a crime as result of an incident in which a person is the victim, the person may serve as a witness in a criminal trial. However, the person does not recover damages from a criminal trial and is not a party to the legal action. To recover damages, the person needs to file a civil complaint in state or federal court

When Can the Police be Held Liable for Damages?

A law enforcement officer may be held liable for damages if they:

  • Fail to perform their duties;
  • Perform their duties negligently;
  • Abuse their power; or
  • Use excessive force.

There are two main categories of police liability:

What to Do If The Police Violate Your Rights

It is important to proceed carefully in claiming that a police officer has violated a person's rights or engaged in criminal conduct of which a person is the victim.

  • The first step is to file a complaint with the police department or the internal affairs division of the police department where the officer is employed. It is generally a requirement that a person exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing a lawsuit; that means seeking a remedy from the agencies involved before turning to the courts;
  • After reporting to the police department, the next step is to report the misconduct to the U.S. Department of Justice or the office of the U.S. Attorney; 
  • After the violations have been reported to the police department or the U.S. Attorney's office, a person may then proceed to filing a lawsuit in court against the police department and/or their officers.

It is important to remember that in a civil lawsuit it is the claimant who has the burden of proving that a police officer engaged in misconduct.

One issue that arises is whether to file suit in state or federal court. This can be a complex, technical legal question and that is why a person with a claim against the police for misconduct should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

What Damages Might I Receive From a Police Misconduct Laws?

Damages in a police misconduct lawsuit will vary depending on the severity of the misconduct and the nature of the injuries that a person suffers from such misconduct. The types of damages that one can recover in a police misconduct lawsuit include the following:

    • Compensatory Damages: You will be compensated for such things as property damage, costs of medical care, loss of earnings if the person has missed work, and potential future loss of financial earnings;
    • Aggravated Damages: Aggravated damages would be awarded in the exceptional case where the police conduct was especially egregious; aggravated damages would be awarded where the officer's conduct subjected a person to distress, embarrassment and humiliation;
    • Exemplary Damages: These are awarded where the police conduct amounted to an oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional action; exemplary damages are intended to serve as a deterrent to future wrongdoing.

Each kind of damage must be justified by the evidence presented at a trial.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Filing a Lawsuit against the Police?

If you believe that the police have violated your rights or have victimized you through criminal conduct, you may have a right to seek money damages for your injuries. It is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to help you find your way through the process of making a claim. 

It is a challenge to succeed in claiming that a police officer committed misconduct, so you would definitely want an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a case of this kind.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.