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Facts about Excessive Force by Law Enforcement in California

This content about Police Brutality was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

The term excessive force, also known as police brutality, refers to a form of police misconduct. When attempting to defuse a situation, make an arrest, or protect others or themselves, officers are only allowed to use a reasonably necessary amount of force. They apply to situations where the use of deadly force is unwarranted, and also when said excessive use of force results in serious injuries or death due to actions such as chokeholds, rubber bullets, and baton blows, among others.

Any action or procedure that surpasses a law enforcement officer’s established limits of force against a civilian during an arrest, probation, parole, or related duties can be considered excessive use of force. The wrongful actions taken in such cases usually show malice and go beyond a mere de-escalation of conflict or preservation of life. For this reason, they can come under investigation to find responsibilities and restore rights to the affected citizen.

Grounds for Liability

According to the constitution, citizens should be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as well as cruel and unusual punishment, as described respectively in the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. The Fourth Amendment states that you have the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. Furthermore, the Eight Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Use of deadly force can also violate the victim’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, given that the person would have been deprived of their life without due process of law.

The spectrum of use of force establishes that each level should be deployed according to the threat posed by the suspect, that is, whether armed, unarmed, fleeing, or cooperating. The five degrees of force that can be used on a suspect are:

  1. Physical presence
  2. Verbalization
  3. Empty-hand control
  4. Less lethal methods
  5. Lethal force

Lethal force should be invoked only when a suspect is bound to escape and poses a high threat to the life or integrity of the people involved. This is where we understand why lethal force on an unarmed and cooperating suspect is an absolute act of brutality.

However, cases where the injury did not cause death to the suspect can also be considered police brutality.

Remedies for Excessive Force

A civil rights complaint can be filed seeking damages (money) or an injunction (revision to policies and practices in a police institution), according to Section 1983 of the United States Code. It’s also possible to file a complaint with the DOJ (Department Of Justice). An offending officer might end up criminally prosecuted for excessive force parallel to a civil complaint.

In both cases, it’s necessary to carefully analyze the circumstances around the situation, such as the severity of the crime, the presence of a threat, degree of compliance, warnings, and the actual handling of the situation by the officer.

Statute of Limitations and Burden of Proof

The burden of proof in civil cases usually falls on the plaintiff, having to prove liability by a “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning “more likely than not”). If the police officer – who in this case is the defendant – raises a defense of justification, they must prove there was a legal excuse for their behavior under the same standard as the victim. 

While treatment of excessive force cases vary from state to state, all states agree that the plaintiff being found guilty of the crime that the officer arrested them for is not a valid form of defense for the officer to have used excessive force. In turn, if the plaintiff is found innocent of the crime, chances are more likely to show the officer’s use of force was not justified.

A federal lawsuit takes a statute of limitations of two years, while a state law claim takes six months.

A Change in the Law Against Excessive Force in California

Following a remarkably public case of brutality against an unarmed and compliant youth, the state of California decided to enforce a new regulation on police brutality in August 2019.

According to this law, the use of lethal force is justifiable when “necessary” instead of “reasonable.” This means that only when it is critical should officers apply lethal force, and only to protect the life and integrity of the people involved. It is expected that this reform will bring brutality cases to light, and help discourage police abuse and restore civil rights to the victims.

Contact an Excessive Force Lawyer in California

An excessive force lawyer – or “civil rights lawyer” – generally takes the cases of people who were victims of this type of police misconduct if they have a viable lawsuit against the officer who violated their rights, or even against the municipality that employs them.

In the case of severe injury due to excessive force, you may have the opportunity for representation by Haddad and Sherwin. Our California based Civil Rights lawyers regularly handle cases of excessive force, wrongful death, and catastrophic injury. For a free consultation in the case of severe injury, contact us here.

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content about Police Brutality was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.