Almost every day, it seems like there is another report concerning the use of excessive force by the police during an otherwise routine arrest. The police will argue that the victim was resisting or otherwise believed to be dangerous, but we know that this is often not the case. Victims are severely beaten, resulting in broken bones, torn ligaments, and other serious injuries. Victims are then left to face criminal charges while also needing extensive medical care, which is not always easy to get if you’ve been incarcerated. If you’ve been injured by the police while being arrested, you have the right to sue them and hold them accountable for your injuries.
The first thing to understand is that the police often have immunity from various types of legal claims, meaning that they are shielded from liability. As a result, you may not be able to sue for an injury that you sustained at the hands of an officer if the injury occurred during the good faith discharge of their official duties. For example, if you are injured in a car accident while riding in a police cruiser on the way to the station, you would not be able to sue the police for your injuries.
As a general rule, the police are allowed to use whatever force is necessary to make an arrest or defend themselves. What is deemed “necessary” is judged by the standard of what a reasonable person would consider necessary under the same circumstances and if that person had the police officer’s knowledge. This standard allows an officer to use greater force when threatened or when a person is resisting arrest as opposed to a suspect who is peacefully complying with the officer’s instructions.
The police have immunity against claims for injuries sustained while using lawful force. You would not be able to sue the police, for example, if your arm was broken because you were resisting arrest.
The other side of the issue is that the police are not permitted to use excessive force. Police brutality occurs when they use an unreasonable amount of force in arresting a suspect that results in injury. This may seem like common sense, but it can be difficult to differentiate what separates excessive force from reasonable force. And as you might imagine, the police typically have a very different version of events when there is an allegation of police brutality.
The good news is that the constitution protects you against police brutality. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects you against “unreasonable seizures.” In order to address the routine and egregious violation of Fourth Amendment rights in the southern states following the civil war, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which included 42 U.S.C. 1983. This statute creates the right to sue the government when someone has been deprived of their “rights, privileges, or immunities” by another person “under the color” of law. In other words, if you are the victim of police brutality, you have the right to sue the police for your injuries and other losses. Lawyers often referred to such lawsuits as “Section 1983” claims, referring to the section of the United States Code.
When you sue the police under Section 1983, you are making a civil claim for monetary damages. This is different from a criminal case in three important ways:
First, when you file a civil suit, all you can ask for is a money judgment. The court does not even have the authority to imprison the defendant in the event that they are found liable for your injuries. However, your civil claim does not mean that criminal charges cannot be brought against the officers. In fact, criminal charges may already be pending, and if the officers are convicted of a crime, it could help prove liability in your Section 1983 case.
As to the second point, you will be the plaintiff in your case against the police. This means that it is your responsibility to prove that the police used excessive force and caused your injuries. You will need to introduce evidence and examine witnesses. You will need to understand how the law applies to your case, and know which facts are critical to your case. Successfully proving a Section 1983 case may require hiring an experienced civil rights attorney.
The third point illustrates a fundamental difference between criminal cases and civil cases. In a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt” while the standard of proof in a civil case is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” To put it in terms that are perhaps easier to understand, the evidence supporting a conviction in a criminal case must be such that there is no reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the evidence in favor of your case must only outweigh the evidence against it. As a result, it may be easier to prevail in your civil case than you may think.
The use of excessive force by police can result in serious injury with long-term and even permanent consequences. If you’ve been injured by the police as the result of the use of excessive force, you are entitled to compensation for the following losses:
The police do not have the right to use excessive or deadly force whenever they choose, and they should be held accountable when they cause harm to private citizens. You could be facing astronomical medical bills and other losses that could change your life forever. An experienced excessive force attorney can evaluate your case and help you understand your options. Contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law for a free, confidential consultation - you can call us at 215-712-1212 or fill out our online contact form.