Police Misconduct

Police misconduct cases are unfortunately more commonplace than might be expected.  Some of these instances of police misconduct may give rise to a civil rights lawsuit.  The behavior may also result in claims under both the Federal tort Claims Act and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.

It is important to pursue these claims as quickly as possible.  Though the statute of limitations on civil rights actions is 3 years, other related tort claims will have only a 2 year statute of limitations.  Moreover, claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act has a notice deadline that runs in as little as 90 days.

Read More on Claims, Deadlines and Other Issues on Claims Against the Government:

While most people think about the use of excessive or deadly force when police misconduct is mentioned, it can also refer to many other inappropriate police actions including high speed pursuits and the use of restraints among other police actions.  

Search & Seizure Analysis Under the 4th Amendment

Police misconduct cases typically involve police conduct during an arrest.  As such, the claims are usually analyzed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.   In short, the 4th Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures and an arrest constitutes such a seizure.

In order to prevail in a claim for a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, including a claim that the police used excessive force during an arrest, you must prove that the officer seized you and that the seizure was unreasonable.   The requirement that it be unreasonable does not mean it must be illegal.  In fact, many legal arrests are carried out in an unreasonable manner.

Reasonableness Standard

On the other hand, the law provides the police with some lee-way when making an arrest, with a determination that arrests necessarily carry some right to use physical coercion or threat of physical force. The reasonableness of the force used by a police officer during an arrest will depend on the specific circumstances of each incident.

In addition, the courts will review the reasonableness of the force used from the eyes of the arresting officer, rather than with the full understanding that hindsight provides.  Though the courts will look at the arrest through the eyes of the officer, this does not mean that good intentions will negate obviously unreasonable behavior.  The behavior is judged on an objective basis under the circumstances and neither good nor bad intentions will necessarily change the evaluation of the conduct.

Excessive Force

In making that evaluation, it is important to remember that a police officer is permitted to use only the amount of force required to bring a suspect under control. In other words, once the suspect is restrained, the police officer is no longer permitted to use force. For example, it may be reasonable for a police officer to use a baton to subdue a suspect in order to handcuff  or subdue him.  But the officer may not then continue using the baton after the suspect has been handcuffed or otherwise subdued.  We all learned this among other lessons from the Rodney King case.

The improper use of restraints is another type of police misconduct that has been the subject of recent lawsuits.  Though rare, a number of deaths have occurred as a result of positional or restraint asphyxia, when the position of the body results in suffocation. In some cases, suspects in the prone position or those under the body weight of officers were suffocated as a result of being in handcuffs.   More common are serious injuries suffered from the improper, either intentional or unintentional, use of restraints.  Police Pursuits

Police pursuits, particularly those at high speeds, can also present significant violations of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. In the event that the fleeing suspect loses control of the vehicle of his or her own accord, without interference by the police, then it is unlikely that a court will find that a seizure occurred.

However, where the police take action that forces the suspect’s car to crash, like running the car off the road or using a roadblock, then the conduct will again be judged by reasonableness under the circumstances.

Though these cases can come up on occasion when a police chase is clearly unreasonable and the suspect is harmed, the much more common claim involves injuries or the wrongful death of other innocent drivers or bystanders who are harmed by a reckless police chase.  Claims by innocent drivers or bystanders will come under New Mexico Tort Claims Act.

Discuss Your Case with an Attorney

Civil rights cases can be very challenging to pursue.  The injured person often comes with some baggage.  However, every citizen is entitled to protection against police misconduct and excessive force.

So if you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed, and you believe that police misconduct is to blame, you should contact an attorney even if you or the loved one is somewhat less than perfect.

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