Houston Criminal Defense Blog

What To Do If You Experience Police Misconduct

police misconductPolice officers in Houston and other cities throughout Texas receive extensive training in carrying out their duties. An objective of this training is to make certain that police encounters with the public comply with state and federal laws and rules intended to protect the rights of the individual.

There are, however, occasions when police overstep their authority in enforcing the law. When this happens, the law provides you with certain rights and procedures through which to complain about the misconduct and, where appropriate, to be compensated for damages that might have resulted from the abuse of power.

Understanding the Concept of Police Immunity

Absent conduct that is willful and unreasonable under the circumstances existing at the time, Houston police officers, like most other law enforcement officers throughout the country, have immunity from being sued for performing their jobs. Even proof that the officer might have acted negligently might not be enough to permit a member of the public whose rights have been violated to sue for damages.

Immunity does not protect police officers who intentionally or willfully engage in violations of a person’s rights. For example, a person shot by a police officer who claims the individual threatened the officer with a weapon might have a right to sue the officer if it is proven that the officer lied.

Civil Rights Violations and Police Misconduct

Federal law gives a person the right to sue for compensation when police or government officials violate constitutional rights. Claims that might arise when police interact with civilians include:

  • False arrest
  • Malicious prosecution
  • Excessive force
  • Failure to intervene
  • False arrest claims against police

False arrest claims usually focus on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requirement that police have probable cause in order to make an arrest. Probable cause is a reason to believe, supported by facts, that the person arrested committed a crime or was about to commit a crime.

Even if the facts upon which the police officer relied for probable cause turn out to be incorrect, a claim for false arrest will not be successful. As long as a reasonable person having the same facts and information as the police officer would have made the arrest, chances are that a court will not rule in favor of the victim.

Unlike a malicious prosecution claim, false arrest cases do not focus on the outcome of the criminal case. False arrest claims focus on the legality of the arrest.

Suing for Malicious Prosecution

Malicious prosecution claims can be difficult to prove against a police officer. There are four elements of a malicious prosecution case that a victim must prove:

• The police officer filed criminal charges
• The criminal case ended in favor of the victim
• Probable cause did not exist to file the case
• The police officer maliciously filed the charges

A plea to a lesser charge by the victim will defeat a claim for malicious prosecution. An officer relying upon information from witnesses that later turns out to be inaccurate would probably not be liable for malicious prosecution because of the difficulty in proving malice.

Excessive Force Claims Against Police

Excessive force claims against police focus on the issue of reasonableness. Was the amount of force used by a police officer reasonable under the circumstances? A police officer shooting a suspect armed only with a knife may or may not be an example of excessive force. Factors that would have to be considered in deciding if it was excessive might include:

• Distance: How close was the suspect to the officer?
• Conduct: Was the suspect just holding the knife or was the knife being thrust at the officer?
• Surroundings: Was the incident in a confined space, or did the officer have room to move away?
How the police officer felt about the victim is usually not a factor in excessive force claims. The fact that a particular police officer was known to dislike people of a particular ethnicity probably is immaterial if the use of the force is reasonable. Motivation is not an issue.

Failure to Intervene Claims Against Police

A police officer who stands by while a person’s rights are being violated might be liable for damages. Failing to come to the assistance of a victim, particularly a victim of police misconduct, could be a civil rights violation for which the victim might be entitled to compensation.

A Houston Attorney Might be of Assistance

If you believe that you have been the victim of police misconduct, a Houston attorney might be of assistance to you. Depending upon the circumstances and facts of a particular case, an attorney’s guidance and legal advice could help you to assert your rights to compensation for injuries you suffered.

Contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner

If you have experienced misconduct by a police officer, contact the the Law Office of Billy Skinner immediately. We will fight hard to protect your rights and freedom. Call 713-600-7777 or email today.

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Categories: Criminal Defense