The Civil Rights Act of 1871, numbered 42 U.S.C. § 1983,and commonly referred to as “Section 1983”, prohibits any person from violating constitutional rights while acting “under the color of law.” Said simply, it is unlawful for a state/federal employee performing a governmental function, even if exceeding their authority, to deprive another person of his or her constitutional rights.
Section 1983 and Excessive Force by Law Enforcement
If law enforcement officers use excessive force, they are violating the victim’s Fourth Amendment Right, which protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance, as well as being central to many other criminal law topics and to privacy law.
Under this constitutional violation, victims and or their surviving family can sue the officers under Section 1983. If the victim or their surviving family can prove excessive force under Section 1983, the court can hold the offending officers liable for any harm or injuries sustained. If the victim died as a result of excessive force, the surviving family may file a lawsuit for wrongful death.
Conduct of Force
Law enforcement officers are typically allowed to use whatever force is necessary to make an arrest or defend themselves. Most courts will allow an arresting officer to use more force to arrest a resisting suspect than if the suspect were compliant and may allow for use of deadly force if threatened with death or great bodily harm.
A judge or jury will weigh the available evidence and applicable laws to determine whether or not the police officer applied a reasonable amount of force. These cases focus on the objective reasonableness of the amount of force used and not whether the victim was injured. The officer’s use of force was excessive depends greatly on the circumstances and facts of each specific case.
The officer’s state of mind does not factor into the analysis of excessive force. An officer who uses a reasonable amount of force is likely not liable for injuries to the victim, even if he or she had bad intentions. With that said, an officer with good intentions who uses an unreasonable amount of force is still likely liable for injuries to the victim.
Boundaries of Police Immunity
Law enforcement officers generally have immunity from liability while performing their official duties. This means, private individuals are not allowed to sue police officers for injuries sustained during arrest, booking, or other official procedures if the officer was not violating a clearly established constitutional right. Simple negligence or carelessness is not enough to overcome police immunity.
Section 1983 provides a cause of action in cases where the use of force was excessive and unreasonable. In these cases, where officers violate a person’s constitutional rights, immunity can be overcome or the burden is shifted to the officers that prove that their conduct falls within the protected immunity.
Burden of Proof for an Excessive Force Lawsuit
“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” does not apply for the plaintiff (victim) in civil court, as that is a standard for criminal court. In civil court, the plaintiff only needs to show that their position is more likely true than not true.
Get Legal Help
If you or someone close to you has been the victim of excessive force by law enforcement, you need a knowledgeable law firm who is not afraid to fight for your rights. At Solution Law, we have the experience and the level of commitment you need to take on a police department. Call for a consultation.
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