The conduct of the police in America has (once again) come under extreme scrutiny in the last few months, precipitated and punctuated by the unfortunate, unnecessary deaths of several African-American men at the hands of police officers across the country. As Americans, the United States Constitution and its Amendments endow us with civil rights. These civil rights may be violated in various ways by state actors such as police officers and sheriffs’ deputies.
Police misconduct may take different forms, including excessive force, which recently occurred in the cases of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. Most of us fortunate enough to live in a democracy possess an extremely heightened sensitivity to the use of excessive force by police officers, so much that we further demonize it with the term “police brutality.” After all, an oppressive police force is commonly the tool of dictatorships and a symbol antagonistic to the American democratic principle of personal freedom, heavily reliant on the notions of limited government interference and unoppressive government conduct.
In California, victims of police misconduct may recover damages when the police infringe upon these civil rights. Federal law provides two causes of action. The first under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a civil action for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The term “Bivens action” comes from Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), in which the Supreme Court held that a violation of Fourth Amendment rights by federal officers may give rise to a federal cause of action for damages for unlawful searches and seizures.
California state law also offers victims of police brutality remedies for their damages. In August 2019, Governor Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 392, a police use-of-force bill that redefines the circumstances under which the use of lethal force by a peace officer is considered justifiable. The law is intended to encourage law enforcement to increasingly rely on alternative methods such as less-lethal force or de-escalation techniques.
In the next few months, this blog will address police misconduct, including police brutality and remedies under federal law as well as California law, including the effects of AB 392.
As a California Criminal Trial Lawyer with over 40 years of courtroom experience, John Patrick Dolan has handled everything from traffic tickets to death penalty murder cases. Mr. Dolan is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a true courtroom veteran of domestic violence defense cases. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.