The 14th Amendment protects individuals from state action that violates their constitutional rights and deprives a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. In connection to that protection, Congress passed a civil rights law under 42 U.S.C. 1983 where if individual’s rights are violated from a state actor including Utah state actors, then they can recover for damages for that violation in a civil action against the state. This is the civil rights statute.
There have been many cases filed regarding this statute. They are not easy cases and it is like threading a needle to go after the state with this statute. The state has two immunities. First, the state has the 11th Amendment where a state can’t be sued in federal court by a private individual. Also, state officials have qualified immunity, meaning that the violation has to be intentional. The biggest use of this statute and most cases filed relate to police officers and misconduct toward individuals in their investigations and arrests also known as police brutality or excessive use of force cases.
Individuals have rights under the 4th Amendment from unlawful searches and seizures. This means that if a police officer searches your home, they need a warrant to do so unless they fall under an exception such as an ongoing emergency. Also, even if they have a warrant, the warrant has to be supported by probable cause with an affidavit for it to be valid. So even if an officer has a warrant, it may not be supported by probable cause and still violate your 4th Amendment rights.
Individuals also have rights under the 4th Amendment from unlawful arrests and seizures. Each arrest requires a finding of probable cause that the individual committed a crime. If the crime was not committed in the presence of the officer, a warrant for arrest is required. An arrest just doesn’t mean actually getting booked into jail or getting handcuffed. An arrest means that an individual was detained by the police officer and they weren’t free to leave.
If that’s the case, then its an arrest unless it is a brief detention only to make sure that you are not armed. If it was made without probable cause, meaning you more than likely committed a crime, then it was an unlawful detention. This is the stop and frisk rule where an officer can briefly stop and frisk someone if they have reasonable suspicion they are engaged in criminal activity. However, if they continue to detain that person after the stop and frisk, that leads to an unlawful arrest and seizure.
Also, if an officer seized items from your home and parts of your car without a warrant or suspicion of criminal activity, that may also be an unlawful seizure in violation of your 4th Amendment right.
You also have the 5th Amendment right not to testify against yourself of incriminating activity unless you are read those rights and agree to waive them. You also have the right to speak to an attorney before speaking to officers. You must also be read your rights before waiving them. If you weren’t read those rights, and were forced to speak to police officers, that would also be a constitutional violation.
“Due process of law” is the process afforded to individuals and requirements a government must do before it can deprive you of life, liberty or property. So a search and seizure without a warrant and or without probable cause violates the process to properly search and seize those items and or arrest and detain you.
There can also be possible first amendment violations if the arrests occurred while you were peacefully protesting and or exercising a first amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
The biggest cases against police officers are police brutality; police misconduct; excessive use of force claims. Police brutality is also a 4th Amendment issue as it relates to your detention or attempts to detain you by police officers and the reasonableness of those attempts. This involves an individual when they were injured and or killed during that process. Prosecutors also review these cases for possible criminal charges against an officer to determine whether or not the injury was justified under use of force laws or if criminal charges need to be filed based on the conduct of the officer.
After an individual has been sentenced and is imprisoned serving time for a crime, then it switches to an 8th Amendment violation under a cruel and unusual punishment standard. These cases typically involve physical abuse from prison guards or deprivation of medical attention or food and water.
A criminal charge has a high bar since the evidence must be beyond a reasonable doubt. However, just because an officer is not charged with a crime doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be held liable for an unlawful use of force civil action.
The standard of proof is lower in a civil action than a criminal action. However, a person still has to prove intentional conduct, not just negligent conduct like a typical personal injury civil case. So, civil actions against police officers are tougher to prove than most other personal injury actions. The question is whether or not the conduct of the officers was reasonable based on the circumstances for 4th and 5th Amendment violations.
Each case is a case-by-case basis based on the circumstances. This can include the fear the officer may have had of their life and the lives of others and whether that fear was legitimate. This can also include the use of force used in balance with the crime and basis for detention at issue. It can also include the demeanor of the individual detained and or the demeanor of the officer. Again, the threshold question is whether or not the use of force was reasonable in light of the circumstances.
An 8th Amendment violation standard is also higher than a 4th Amendment violation. Instead of looking at the reasonableness of the officer, the actions must be essentially malicious under a “shock the conscious” standard that focuses primarily on the motive of the officer and not necessarily the circumstances.
Damages to these cases are damages to equivalent damages you would get in a civil case, such as damages for civil assault and battery and damages for civil false imprisonment. This can include any emotional trauma suffered as well and any property damage or fees incurred or any other issues related to the case such as the publicity of the arrest on the internet related to reputation damages. You can also recover attorney fees and court costs and ask the court to impose a penalty fee to punish the wrongdoer or punitive damages.
Contact our attorney and law firm today for a case review related to a claim you or a loved may have related to a police brutality or excessive use of force.