Civil rights safeguard your freedom from infringement by the government and its representatives. These rights are protected by the US Constitution as well as certain federal statutes. Examples include your right to vote and your right to be free from discrimination. There are many types of possible civil rights violations in WV, including police civil rights violations—and these violations can also take various forms. Understanding your rights is the first step to protecting them.
What Actions Constitute Police Civil Rights Violations?
Police officers face difficult situations that often involve split-second judgment calls. However, they must still respect the civil rights of the people in their community at all times. When a person’s rights are infringed upon by a law enforcement officer, there may be cause for a claim against the officer or officers, police department, municipality, or others.
There is a wide spectrum of police misconduct, from aggressive behavior all the way up to unjustified police-involved shootings. However, not all instances of misconduct constitute police civil rights violations. Following are some examples of your civil rights and ways law enforcement may violate them.
A Critical Element of a Civil Rights Claim against Police
To prevail in a civil rights claim against police, you must prove the basic elements of a civil rights violation. Chief among these is showing that the officer or officers involved were acting “under color of” law, meaning having the legal right to do so. Here, this means acting in the course and scope of the officer’s duty as a law enforcement officer. This often requires showing facts such as that officer was on duty, showed a law enforcement badge, was in uniform, or used law enforcement equipment.
Police Civil Rights Violations Involving Excessive Force
When police encounter a citizen who poses a danger to the community or is not responding to instructions, sometimes the use of force is necessary to deescalate the situation or secure the area. Generally, police are instructed to use the least amount of force possible, but there is no black and white definition to guide how much force is appropriate. One description offered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police says that the appropriate use of force is the “amount of effort required by police to compel compliance.”
Unfortunately, in some instances, police officers use far more force than is necessary, which can result in long-lasting injuries or even death. If a police officer uses excessive force, that is a violation of your civil rights. While police action that results in injury or death is most common for excessive force claims, even force such as restraining the person can be deemed excessive in certain circumstances.
When a False Arrest Violates Civil Rights
The US Constitution and federal law protect citizens from being arrested without cause. False arrest is considered an unlawful restriction of a person’s freedom in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, police must have a legal justification for arresting someone. If police officers conduct an arrest with no basis or without the consent of the arrestee, the arrested individual may sue the police for civil rights violations.
False arrest claims have historically not been easy to prove because police officers may simply argue that the facts and circumstances support probable cause. More recently, however, the prevalence of body cams, security cameras and civilian cell phone footage has helped defendants demonstrate that their arrest was a false arrest.
Recent Changes to Failure to Mirandize as Grounds for Police Civil Rights Violations
Most people know that police officers must read you your rights (Mirandize you) before questioning you following your arrest or detention. This has been the law of the land since 1966, and, until recently, defendants who experienced a violation of Miranda rights could sue the government for compensatory damages for a civil rights violation. However, in June 2022, the US Supreme Court held in Vega v. Tekoh that a man could not sue the police officer who had interrogated him without a Miranda warning.
The Court ruled that failure to Mirandize does not violate 42 USC § 1983, the civil rights law that allows citizens to sue for damages when a government actor deprives them of their civil rights. The ruling does not mean that police officers no longer have to read people their rights. It does mean that if you’ve been arrested and the police failed to Mirandize you, you may no longer have a claim for a police civil rights violation for the lack of a Miranda warning.
A Civil Rights Attorney Can Help Defend Your Rights
If you have been the victim of police civil rights violations, you have legal options available to you. Federal law permits you to sue the arresting officer and the police department for such violations. You may be able to recover damages, hold the arresting officer accountable and even prevent a civil rights violation from happening to someone else in the future. The Law Office of M. Andrew Brison, PLLC has the experience needed to investigate your case and implement customized strategies for success. A skilled Charleston, WV civil rights lawyer will review your case, collect evidence and formulate a strategy to prove your claim. For a consultation to learn how we can help with WV police civil rights violations, contact us at 304-301-3916 or complete our online contact form.