CAN I SUE THE POLICE FOR A VIOLATION OF MY CIVIL RIGHTS?
Although police officers take an oath to protect and serve the public, there are certain times where the police do not uphold this oath and subject members of the public to violations of their civil rights through unreasonable searches and seizures or excessive force. When this happens, an individual’s civil rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution are violated. As such, can an individual sue the police?
Civil Rights Act – Section 1983
When an individual has been the victim of a violation of their civil rights, they may be able to file a lawsuit against the police under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. This is done primarily under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which is generally referred to as a Section 1983 claim. A Section 1983 claim is a civil suit by a member of the public against the police department or government agency that violated the individual’s rights. Generally, a successful Section 1983 claim requires the deprivation of an individual’s civil rights, by a government official, acting under the supposed power of the law.
Burden of Proof
Unlike a criminal case, where the burden of proof that the prosecution must show is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof in a civil claim is through a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the plaintiff in a civil claim must show that any claim they are alleging more likely then not occurred.
An obstacle to a successful Section 1983 claim is qualified and governmental immunity. In order to protect both the employees of the government and the government itself, almost all local, state, and Federal branches of the government have immunity from suits brought against them by private citizens. Although this seems unfair, it is done in order to protect the government from having to defend baseless suits and provide settlements out of public funds (provided by taxpayers). However, depending on the facts and situations of your claim, certain events (excessive force, blatant disregard for civil rights, etc.) can cause these immunities to be overruled.
In order to be successful in a suit against the police, it is important to have your claim evaluated by a experienced attorney who can objectively sort through the facts and circumstances to give you advice on how to proceed. Since Section 1983 claims are complex, many cases that may have a legitimate basis unfortunately do not meet the minimum threshold required to move forward with the case.
If you have been a victim of a violation of your civil rights by a government official, it is important to consult with an experienced civil rights attorney that can help you establish your claim. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.