Police officers are allowed to use reasonable force in the course of their duty when detaining or apprehending an individual. This right is granted under the Fourth Amendment, which states that every search and seizure must be reasonable and without excessive force. However, this reasonable force is hard to define since every situation is different and it can be hard to gauge what amount of force is actually reasonable and not excessive.
If an individual believes that they have been the victim of unreasonable force, they can attempt to bring a civil claim for the use of excessive force by the police. This claim falls under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 where an individual can bring a claim against:
“[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and [the] laws.”
Therefore, in order to satisfy a § 1983 claim, the following elements must be proven:
a) A “person”;
b) Acting under “color of law”;
c) Deprived another person of a constitutional right.
Under the first element, it must be proved that an individual person, typically a police officer or another governmental official, acted against the victim. Under the second element, this person must have been enforcing a law or acting in their official capacity. Finally, for the third element, the person’s actions must have deprived or violated a known constitutional right of the individual.
One potential problem for a § 1983 claim is the qualified immunity exception for public or governmental officials. The general rule is that government officials or employees are immune from lawsuits against them when they act in their official capacity. This is necessary because if police officers had to constantly worry about being liable for their actions in going about their job, it would prevent their ability to protect and to serve. However, qualified immunity is not available where a government official acts with “deliberate indifference” to an individual’s constitutional rights. This can sometimes be described as an act or actions that are so “shocking to the conscience” as to be manifestly and grossly unjust.
Because of the qualified immunity exception, the success of most § 1983 claims turns on how extreme the actions of the police or other governmental officials were. In general, the more severe their actions, the better the chance of success on a § 1983 claim is. However, this generally seems to prevent bringing a claim against the police or a governmental official who may have stepped over the line of excessive force, but not in a manner that is “deliberately indifferent” or “shocks the conscience.”
If you believe that you have been the victim of excessive force by police, do not hesitate to Contact Us at Minick Law for a free consultation about your potential §1983 claim.
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James Minick is a criminal defense attorney in Asheville, NC and is the owner of Minick Law, P.C.