However, some police officers commit the very crimes they are intended to prevent. These actions may cause harm to others directly or indirectly. This could be the suppression of evidence, neglect or willful harm to another. In other cases, law enforcement officers can be held liable when they fail to protect individuals in their custody or for whom they are responsible.
When a law enforcement person commits these acts, he may become liable for damages and civil or criminal punishments.
Limitations of Liability
For most actions a police officer performs, their liability usually involves occurrences of mishandling and viciousness during apprehensions and other contact with the community. They are accountable for severe actions, but the burden of proof is placed upon the accuser. In order for a law enforcement officer to be held liable, he or she must be acting under the color of law, meaning that he or she was acting as a law enforcement officer at the time of the incident in question. Additionally, police liability only lies when the law enforcement officer violated the individual’s constitutional rights. Common claims against law enforcement officers include conducting illegal searches and seizures, making unlawful arrests, using unnecessary force during an arrest and using unwarranted use of deadly force.
Law enforcement officers are responsible for their own actions, and they may be held accountable for deliberate harm to another. Negligence may lead to a court case. These cases may include actions of disregard in acting with practical carefulness to others they interact with, failing to apply judicious caution, causing injury to another or an individual is harmed through the failure of responsibility to others. Gross negligence is present when the law enforcement exhibits an intentional indifference of the need to use reasonable care which may cause predictable severe injury or damage to a person, property or both. Examples of this type of negligence include the knowing disregard to protect another person’s federally protected rights or the intentional harm to an individual not related to arrest.
Civil rights violations may lead to more severe cases of litigation. The harm of another through these actions, the disregard of federally secure rights or a misuse of power through state law may cause the violator to pay for damages or endure a lengthy and costly court case.
State codes provide that any action not sanctioned by the police department in the act of performing lawful duties that is unlawful may lead to criminal charges.
Burden of Proof
To ensure police that violate laws are punished for their crimes, the burden falls upon the victim or family of the victim to prove. Enough evidence is required to ensure penalties are paid. When attempting to prove a case, an individual may be required to show that the offender knowingly acted in violation of the law. These actions may be difficult to substantiate particularly with negligence. A professional psychological expert may be required to assist in demonstrating how behavior fit the actions. Additionally, appropriate leeway is given to law enforcement officers who are tasked with protecting the community while recognizing the inherent risk in the job.
One legal theory that can apply to police liability cases is the “state-created danger.” This theory holds that police can be held liable if they did or failed to do something that would place a person in obvious danger even though the individual was not in police custody. This theory of liability is present when the individual is placed in a position of danger that he or she would not have been in but for the law enforcement officer’s actions. For example, if law enforcement officers stop a vehicle, arrest the driver and leave the other occupants on the side of the road in a high-crime area, police liability may result if harm befalls the occupants. This liability can also result if law enforcement officers block a person from entering an establishment or his or her own vehicle in low temperatures.
When an individual has been harmed through the direct or indirect actions of law enforcement, it is best to seek a lawyer that has experience in cases involving police misconduct.
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