Suing the Police Lawyers
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When Can I Sue the Police?
Most lawsuits against the police are for police misconduct. Police misconduct occurs when a police officer violates someone’s civil rights. Victims of police misconduct usually rely on 42 USCA § 1983; this statute makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. Most claims against police officers arise out of the following police actions:
- Excessive or unreasonable force
- Malicious prosecution
- Intentional false arrest
- Sexual abuse
Most states require victims to first go through all appropriate administrative remedies before they can sue the police. Administrative remedies include the following:
- Reporting the incident to internal affairs division of the police department, and/or
- Reporting the incident to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or a municipality's Attorney General (AG).
Once you have made an appropriate report, most states also require the DOJ, AG, or the internal affairs division to give you a written notice of your right to sue the police.
Who Can I Sue When I Sue the Police?
Most police misconduct suits involve any of the following three defendants:
- The police officer(s) involved
- The municipality
- The supervisor of the police officer(s)
The police officer(s) involved are usually the primary defendant in police misconduct lawsuits. Suing a municipality may be more difficult because of the Government Immunity Doctrine, but in some states this doctrine has been abolished. Supervisors are not usually vicariously liable, and they can only be sued if they were personally involved in the incident or were a direct cause of the incident.
What Damages Can I Receive When I Sue the Police?
If you sue the police, you may be able to collect damages. Generally, those damages fall into three categories:
- Civil Rights Damages - These damages are directly tied to police officer’s violation of your Civil Rights.
- Actual Damages - These damages cover physical and emotional injuries, expenses, and costs associated with the incident.
- Punitive Damages - These damages are meant to punish the police officer. Generally, municipalities are exempt from punitive damages.
Are There Any Limitations to Suing the Police?
Some states have "False Charge" laws. "False Charge" laws make it a misdemeanor to knowingly file a false police misconduct allegation or lawsuit against a police officer, a municipality, or a supervisor. If you file a false charge, you can be punished with jail time, fines, and/or community service.
Do I Need an Attorney to Sue the Police?
If you are considering suing the police, or if you think that you have been the victim of police misconduct, you should contact an attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to explain the law, guide you through the legal process, and help protect your rights.
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Last Modified: 03-14-2014 04:32 PM PDT
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