The U.S. Constitution and other federal laws give police officers a wide range of what they can do to in the name of justice. The California Police Officers Bill of Rights gives police officers immunity from investigation and prosecution for many actions they take during official duty. The law does not, however, give law enforcement free rein to harass or abuse citizens.
Police misconduct, or an officer abusing his/her position of power, has been a topic of great controversy in the last several years, in large part due to the number of police activities now caught on civilian cameras. Looking at a few common examples of police misconduct can help you understand whether or not California deputies have wronged you.
Police excessive force, unreasonable force, or brutality can have lethal consequences, as the nation has seen again and again in recent years. “Excessive force” can describe any degree of force by hand or use of weapons that are not reasonable, or exceeds the minimum amount necessary, for the circumstances. Shooting and killing an unarmed citizen who was complying with orders is an example of excessive force or police brutality.
Excessive force violates citizens’ Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures. Unreasonable force doesn’t have to mean deadly force, but sadly the two are often synonymous with police misconduct cases. An officer may only use deadly force if he or she has probable cause to believe the suspect is a threat to the lives of the officer or to others and the force is necessary to prevent the suspect from escaping. Otherwise, it’s excessive and against the law.
Discrimination or Racial Profiling
One or more officers might be guilty of discrimination against a person based on sex, race, religion, or disability if they treat a person differently or unfairly because of a protected class. Discrimination by police officers might take the form of racial profiling during traffic stops and arrests. For example, one study of Oakland police found that police were four times more likely to search black men than white men during traffic stops. Despite California lawmakers making an effort to stop discrimination in law enforcement through measures such as collecting more police data, this issue still pervades the streets of the Golden State.
A false arrest claim alleges that a police officer did not have the required probable cause to make an arrest. To have “probable cause” to arrest someone, officers in California must have knowledge (based on facts or circumstances) that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the suspect has committed or will commit a crime. Without probable cause, it is unlawful for police to place someone under arrest, as they will not have the warrant to do so. The only time an officer doesn’t need an arrest warrant is if the suspect commits a crime in the officer’s presence.
Obstruction of Justice
Cops might obstruct justice by using their positions of power to threaten or intimidate witnesses. Witness tampering, encouraging false confessions, or otherwise hindering the discovery and conviction of someone who has committed a crime, is against the law. Bribery, intimidation, and using physical force against witnesses could all qualify as obstructing justice.
If you think you have a case of police misconduct, speak to an attorney right away. It can be difficult to prove a case against law enforcement, but retaining a lawyer can significantly help your chances.