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Constitutional protections and police brutality

| Mar 25, 2021 | Uncategorized

Whether policing methods in New York City and across the nation have changed for the worse, or the prevalence of video documentation of police brutality and recent public outcry have made them seem more common, police misconduct is increasingly becoming a social justice issue.

The past year has seen extensive reporting of police powers directed toward crowd control during protests or other organized gatherings, as well as altercations with the law that have resulted in the use of deadly force toward victims who were never charged with a crime. Victims have suffered from injuries due to rubber bullets, explosions of tear gas canisters, illegal premises entry, beatings, racial profiling and false arrests.

For New Yorkers who are suffering after an instance of police brutality or prosecutorial misconduct, it is important to have an aggressive and experienced legal advocate who will help you to fight for your rights.

Qualified immunity

Law enforcement enjoys broad policing power under the doctrine of qualified immunity, which was first introduced during the civil rights movement in Pierson v. Ray and similar cases. In this case, the Supreme Court established that officers were exempt from civil rights lawsuits if the accused officer was acting in good faith and with probable cause.

With qualified immunity, the plaintiff must prove more than negligence or a failure of the officer to exercise a duty of care when performing his functions. The bar for conviction in a civil lawsuit involving law enforcement is proving that the officer was acting in bad faith and was aware that those actions were in violation of the plaintiff’s civil rights.

Protections under Section 1983

Originally a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which was designed to protect freed slaves from oppressive actions by vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Section 1983 later became a part of Title 42 of the U.S. Code. Section 1983 prevents an individual acting under the authority of state law from depriving another person of their constitutional or federal rights.

These rights include protections against:

  • False arrest under the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure
  • Unreasonable or excessive force under the Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights protecting citizens respectively from unreasonable search and seizure, and cruel and unusual punishment
  • malicious prosecution under the Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty

An officer can also be held liable for a failure to intervene if they have witnessed a fellow officer violating the constitutional rights of an individual.