What constitutes police misconduct under federal and California law?
Police misconduct may take many forms. Citizens may suffer from police brutality consisting of violence or force that results from discrimination, racial profiling, or over-aggressive police officers. It may also result from illegal invasions of privacy that violate a person’s civil and constitutional rights. Also, police officers may commit perjury and suppress evidence to protect themselves or fellow officers when accusations of police misconduct surface. In addition to the foregoing examples, police misconduct may occur when a person is falsely arrested or wrongfully or illegally detained.
Police are legally permitted to use reasonable force – as much force as is reasonably necessary – to make an arrest. Police officers who use excessive force during an arrest are potentially guilty of police misconduct. The use of excessive force may cause the arrest to be unreasonable and a violation of the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights. California law makes it illegal for police to use deadly force when reasonable under the circumstances. Under the new law, force may only be used when necessary. The use of deadly force may also violate the victim’s due process rights if it deprives the victim of their life without due process of law.
Police may commit an act of misconduct by using racial profiling to detain. This is common when police stop-and-frisk individuals who they suspect of committing criminal acts. Fortunately, racial profiling may not provide the reasonable suspicion necessary for a valid, legal detention. Any reasonable suspicion must be based on the individual rather than the individual’s race. Using race as reasonable suspicion for detention is illegal as it violates a person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
An arrest intentionally deprives someone of his or her freedom of movement as the person is compelled to remain or move somewhere against his or her will. An arrest is a false arrest if the law enforcement officer had no legal authority for it and such an arrest violates the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights. This may occur when police make an arrest without a warrant or probable cause, or police use an invalid arrest warrant to make an arrest.
When an accused is arrested without a warrant, the arresting officer must prove the existence of probable cause for the arrest. This requires showing there was reasonable cause to believe the person arrested had committed either a felony or any crime in the presence of the arresting officer.
Police misconduct also includes committing perjury, which is lying under oath, or presenting false evidence to a court or tribunal. Law enforcement officers may commit perjury during trial, in grand jury testimony, in police reports, or in affidavits supporting probable cause for a search or arrest warrant. The latter may make the resulting warrant invalid and therefore, illegal, which is also a violation of the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Actionable instances of police misconduct violate an individual’s civil rights. Actions relate to an instance of police misconduct such as an illegal search and seizure may violate constitutional rights. While anyone guilty of police brutality or misconduct may be the subject of an internal affairs complaint or criminal charges, typically a civil rights lawsuit or Bivens actions if filed.
John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law, the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. The advice, guidance, and representation of experienced criminal defense counsel may be crucial to achieving the best possible result in any criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.