Police Misconduct And Civil Rights


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While personal injury or tort trials made up almost 60 percent of all tort, contract and real property trials nationwide as little as a decade ago, the truth is that only about 4 percent of these lawsuits ever go to trial. However, a related type of suit that has gained prevalence recently is not personal injury, but civil rights suits connected to police misconduct. Since 2009, reports of police misconduct and brutality have increased, with almost 5,000 reports tracked, and over $300 million spent on misconduct related judgements and settlements, as reported by the National Police Misconduct Reporting and Statistics Project (NPMRSP) in 2010.

It?s true that police officers are granted broad authority to carry out their duties, to serve and protect. However, there are Constitutional limits on what they can do in their efforts to enforce our laws and maintain public safety. Sometimes, unfortunately, they go too far; whether by mistake or intention, citizens get hurt. There are over a dozen specific subtypes of police misconduct, of which brutality or excessive force is one, although corruption, false arrest, improper searches, and other types also fall under this umbrella. In these situations, the victim of the misconduct may have recourse through state and federal law.

One of the main intentions of the United States’ civil rights laws is to protect its citizens from abuses such as police misconduct. Known as Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code, it states that it is unlawful for anyone acting on the authority of state law to deprive another person of their rights under the Constitution. Keep in mind that many states provide their officers with a certain level of immunity; unless it can be proven that willful, unreasonable conduct was enacted, most cases of false arrest or unreasonable force may not be successful. In many cases, a civil rights lawyer becomes necessary.

A police misconduct attorney is specialized in cases that involve actions like excessive force, unconstitutional search and seizure, illegal strip searches, false arrests, and unlawful shooting. They understand the fine points of the laws regarding each situation, whether criminal or civil, and are especially experienced in cases where more than one of the above events took place. Since a great deal of concrete evidence is required to present such cases successfully, a lawyer assists in collecting, managing, and analyzing the provable facts.

Since evidence is of utmost importance, it is essential to have good notes regarding any situation involving potential police misconduct. Although the event may be overwhelming, shocking, and painful, it is best to remain silent and take good mental notes, and write them down as soon as possible. In addition, take photographs of any damage or injuries sustained due to the incident. Remove and bag any clothing or objects that may have blood or other evidential materials. Lastly, attempt to get the contact information for anyone who may have been a witness. Hopefully, video footage, radio recordings, and other types of evidence will be available and corroborate the personal notes of the victim. These are vital to the attorney?s ability to build the case.

Someone who has been the victim of police misconduct may very well be entitled to monetary compensation, with the help of a skilled civil rights attorney. However, more important are the efforts to keep law enforcement agencies accountable. Our civil rights are an integral component of our legal system and our national identity. It is the duty of police officers to protect and serve, and to uphold the laws of our nation, and the rights of individuals should never be sacrificed in the name of the law.

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