The news is full of shocking reports of police brutality from around the country, with many of these incidents occurring here in California. However police misconduct is a broad term, and stands for a whole range of behaviors which are unethical, unlawful, and an abuse of police power.
The drafters of our United States Constitution had a hard time getting the required majority of states (9 of 13) to ratify it to make it the law of the land. Many people did not wish to be subjected to the same kinds of abuse of power that they fought the Revolution to be free of.
The Ten Amendments, known as our Bill of Rights, were added in order to ensure that the United States Government (and local governments) would not have the power to terrorize US Citizens. Many states would not have ratified our Constitution without the promise of a Bill of Rights.
Because the Bill of Rights guarantees us certain rights and protections, it preempts other laws, such as state or local laws if they take away or limit these rights and protections. Other amendments have since been added to our Constitution to further define our rights and protections under the law.
Police have broad discretion in doing their job. But they aren’t allowed to violate an individual’s Constitutional Rights. When a police officer violates somebody’s rights the officer is guilty of breaking the law. Examples of lawless behavior by police include
- Stopping somebody without reasonable suspicion (articulable facts supporting the suspicion) that the person detained is involved in criminal activity
- Searching somebody (stop and frisk) without reasonable suspicion that the person poses a danger to police or others
- Arresting a suspect without either probable cause (strong suspicion of criminal activity) or an arrest warrant supported by probable cause
- Searching somebody’s vehicle, home, or person without a search warrant
- Detaining somebody for an unreasonable length of time without placing them under arrest
- Questioning somebody against their will without arresting them and reading them their rights, including the right to have an attorney present and the right to remain silent.
It is very important to remember that if you give police permission to do any of the above, you have waived your rights. If you say to the officer, ‘I would rather not’ and the cop intimidates you into complying, the officer has violated your rights, but you have to prove it. It is never worth dying over, or even getting beat up. Always remain respectful while asserting your rights. If a cop violates your rights by doing something they don’t have the legal standing to do after you denied them permission, you should comply if you have to, but talk to a lawyer about it later.
Police misconduct includes
- Use of unreasonable force (commonly known as police brutality to arrest or detain somebody (police must only use the amount of force a reasonable person would find necessary to subdue a suspect)). Unreasonable force includes hitting, tasing, or shooting an unarmed suspect who does not pose a threat to the officer or others. We often hear of police shooting unarmed suspects, then claiming the person reached for something and the officer reasonably believed to be a weapon. Frequently, the officer gets away with it.
- Racial profiling
- Stopping somebody repeatedly with no reasonable suspicion (harassment)
- Extorting money or sexual favors from people in exchange for not being arrested
- Denying medical care to prisoners
- Prison Guard abuse
There are exceptions to some of the above. For example, if you display something illegal in plain sight, police have a right to enter the property, seize the illegal thing, and arrest you. A police officer may chase you into your home when in hot pursuit, or under exigent circumstances.
If you are on probation or parole, many of your rights are on hold until you successfully finish your term. However, police do not have a right to use unreasonable force, whatever the situation.
If you believe that your rights have been violated or are being violated, you should speak to a civil rights attorney about your situation. Try to get contact information of witnesses, and any other information which could provide proof that the incident(s) of police misconduct occurred. Whether you have proof or not, it’s a very good idea to talk with a police misconduct attorney.