No One Should Be Above the Law, Including Police Officers
April 17th, 2018 by CLLB Law
Police officers perform a critical role in society. Without proper law enforcement, chaos would be widespread and people would take the law into their own hands. The police and law enforcement are important to Indiana, but officers who break the law and violate constitutional rights need to be accountable. Without this, society could descend into a different kind of chaos — one where law enforcement officers decide what the law is and how it should be enforced and who act as judge and jury.
If a law enforcement officer violates a person’s constitutional rights, the victim may have recourse through federal and state laws. A primary reason civil rights laws exist is to protect citizens from abuses by government, including police misconduct. These laws also allow for awarding of attorney fees and compensatory and punitive damages as incentives for injured parties to try to enforce their rights.
Police officers have qualified immunity from civil lawsuits, which means they can’t be sued for actions while performing their job unless it can be shown that willful, unreasonable conduct violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right. This defense is to allow police officers to enforce the law without fear of being sued.
Negligent action alone won’t be enough to establish liability. A plaintiff in one of these cases must prove the following:
- The actions of the police exceeded reasonable bounds,
- They infringed upon the victim’s constitutional rights,
- A reasonable police officer should have known that the actions in question violated the Constitution, and,
- The actions produced some injury or damages to the victim.
There are proposals that would extend this partial, qualified immunity to what would amount to total immunity from civil lawsuits for law enforcement. One is a proposed federal law introduced last year, the Back the Blue Act, which, according to an opinion piece in the Washington Post, would make it practically impossible to file a lawsuit against law enforcement for violating a person’s constitutional rights.
Under this bill, if a plaintiff can show the evidence listed above and law enforcement proves the injuries happened “in the course of, or as a result of, or . . . related to, conduct by the injured party that, more likely than not, constituted a felony or a crime of violence . . . (including any deprivation in the course of arrest or apprehension for, or the investigation, prosecution, or adjudication of, such an offense),” the officer would be liable only for out-of-pocket expenses.
If this became law it would become almost impossible to sue the police in any but the worst instances of police abuse and when the victim was clearly doing nothing wrong. Limiting damages awards and removing the possible award of attorney’s fees would make it extremely difficult to retain legal representation in these types of cases. One plaintiff’s attorney quoted by the Washington Post stated, “It would basically make it impossible for victims of police abuse to sue anytime, anywhere.” If a federal law like this is enacted we would be taking a giant step forward to becoming a nation ruled by men, not by laws.
Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law has faithfully served the people and communities of Indiana for several years in a variety of criminal defense cases, and we will help you create a strategy that gives you the chance for the best possible outcome. With offices in New Albany and attorneys who are licensed to serve the Kentuckiana area, we have the knowledge, experience and resources to help. To ask a question or to set up a consultation, contact us online or give us a call today.