Civil Liability In Law Enforce Essay

Civil Liability In Law Enforce Term paper

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Law enforcement officers face delicate situations on a daily basis. These situations require immediate and appropriate responses from these officers. Police exercise a great amount of discretion. Misuse of discretion can lead to society questioning police tactics and policies. How do we judge what the appropriate responses in these situations are? Who is to say that the discretion police use is appropriate in any given situation? Police are confronted with enormous pressures. Many well publicized incidents of police brutality in the media in the past few years have left many citizens wondering if this behavior is a typical behavior of law enforcement officers everywhere. Police can be held accountable for the actions they take under law. Lawsuits can be filed against police in either federal or state courts. Civil Liability The most common approach taken by those suing police officers for misconduct is under federal law. Most claim that one of their constitutional rights has been violated. Civil lawsuits are used most commonly, although criminal sanctions are also available. This is in part because grand juries and prosecutors tend to be reluctant to file criminal charges against police officers. There are several statutes that allow citizens to file actions against police. The most common is under what is commonly referred to as Section 1983 lawsuits. Section 1983 refers to the Title 42 of the U.S. Code Civil Rights Act. It states that ...Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any 1 subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress... ( Smith, 41 ). In other words, this gives us as citizens the right to file suit against any officer of the law if any of our Constitutional laws are violated. There are a few key elements that determine whether or not a Section 1983 may be filed. First, the plaintiff, or person filing the suit, must be a person protected under the act. Secondly, the defendant, or person the suit is being filed against, must be a person within the meaning of the act. Third, the defendant must have been acting under, as the statute says color of the law when the alleged deprivation took place. ( This means that the defendant must be performing an act of public authority, such as a police officer that uses excessive force, arrests without probable cause, etc. ) Fourth, the alleged deprivation must be a deprivation of the plaintiffs Constitutional rights. Lastly, the plaintiff must be seeking money, relief, or other proper redress. ( Smith, 42 ). Civil liability is divided into two parts. First is intentional. An intentional act in which an officer intended to act or behave in this manner. An officer who uses excessive force could be sued for intentionally harming the plaintiff. The second type is negligence. Negligence occurs when an officer fails to protect the rights of a citizen or the public, and this neglect results in injury. 2 One such suit filed for negligence is Irwin v. Town of Ware. In this case, police stopped a drunk driver but failed to arrest him. Later that night, the drunk driver caused an accident that resulted in the injury of the individual he hit. The court found that police were negligent because they had a duty to arrest the drunk driver as require by state statute. In general, police are not legally obligated to protect a person from harm. However, police are responsible for protecting the public in general. As mentioned previously, filing federal lawsuits is the most common way to file civil action against the police. This is partially because discovery in federal cases is more liberal than state courts, and suits filed in federal court do not have to exhaust state remedies. this reduces delays often experienced when filing suits. The problem with these civil suits is that it is difficult to establish liability in a federal case. Proving neglect or intentional harm, although possible, has proven to be difficult in federal court. Police officers are not alone in this process. Although section 1983 actions are limited to person under the wording of the statute, the Supreme Court has expanded the role of 1983 actions to include counties and municipalities. However, the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the federal court from hearing lawsuits against state governmental agencies. The Eleventh Amendment states: ...The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State... ( Reid, 520 ). 3 An exception to this rule is a Bivens action. Its name is derived from a case, Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotic Agents ( 1971 ) , in which the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that federal courts can hear cases involving suits against federal actions in that the same legal rules apply to both actions. However, the federal employees ( Swanson, 440 ). These so-called Bivens actions are similar to section 1983 government cannot be sued unless a specific law is enacted permitting citizens to sue. This is generally referred to as governmental immunity. The number of lawsuits filed against police has grown in recent times and is anticipated to continue to grow. A survey conducted in 1987 stated that use of force was the suit most often brought against police. This was followed by such things as auto pursuits, false arrests, searches and seizures, and discrimination based on race ( McCoy, 1 ). While the number of lawsuits filed against police continue to rise, the number of cases that impose police liability is low and the police prevail in over 50% of these cases ( Del Carmen, 24 ). The Exclusionary Rule Another aspect of law police must concern themselves with is the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized ( Reid, 519 ). 4 In the landmark case Mapp v. Ohio ( 1961 ), evidence obtained in an unconstitutional manner was made inadmissible. Two years later the Supreme Court went a step further. In the case Wong Sun v. United States, the Supreme Court declared that evidence derived from illegally obtained evidence was also inadmissible. This is referred to as the fruit of the poison tree doctrine . In applying the exclusionary rule, the Supreme Court has used two key guidelines. The first is the deterrence of unconstitutional police conduct ;and second is judicial integrity ( Kaci, 211 ). Exceptions To The Exclusionary Rule There are a few exceptions to the exclusionary rule. One of these is called the good faith exception. This exception allows evidence that was obtained unconstitutionally if the officers who obtained it were acting under the belief that what they were doing was constitutional. Another exception to the exclusionary rule is the inevitable discovery exception. This is based on the idea that the evidence obtained unconstitutionally would have inevitably been discovered without unconstitutional procedures. The burden of proving this exception is born by the prosecutor. There are also a few procedural exceptions to the exclusionary rule. One of these is the harmless error rule. In this exception, a case will not be overturned because of unconstitutional evidence if the judge is convinced that the illegally obtained evidence would not have influenced the jury s decision. Another exception allowed is a search by a private person. This allows persons not working with a law enforcement agency to seize evidence which otherwise would be unconstitutional if seized by police. 5 Education And Training In response to the threat of civil liability, some departments are changing policies and procedures. One of the biggest changes we ve seen in recent years is the education and training of police officers and law enforcement officials. Most police departments in the United States have begun to give assessment tests for recruits. Such things as intelligence tests and role-playing exercises are used to evaluate a recruit. These tests are intended to screen out undesirable candidates by such criteria as interpersonal communication skills, decision-making ability, and ability to direct others. After these assessment tests recruits must attend a police academy. These academies are taught by licensed instructors and focus on giving students the knowledge and practical skills needed to successfully serve their communities. Instructional areas range from the criminal justice system, law, investigations, patrol fitness, communications, traffic investigations, defensive tactics, use of firearms, and driving ( Police Academy, 2001 ). Rookie officers then go into field training. During this training, a veteran officer monitors the rookie while in the field. Conclusion There are indeed many challenges law enforcement officers face. They are an important link between society and its government. However, the police must not only be responsive to society s needs, but also be held accountable to the communities they serve. Under our democratic system, police must operate under rules of law. We understand the difficulty they experience in situations where their quick and immediate 6 discretion must be used, but we also must understand that law enforcement officers must be held accountable for their actions. Under our laws, police officers must not only be responsive, but also accountable to society for their performance.

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