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Excessive Force: Here’s What You Need to Know

This content about Excessive Force 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.

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 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

The last being recurred 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

A federal lawsuit takes a statute of limitations of two years, while a state law claim takes six months. As for the burden of proof, “preponderance of the evidence” will suffice in federal cases, but “beyond reasonable doubt” is necessary for criminal claims.

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.

Proper Guidance Can Make a Difference

You or a close one might be looking for answers after the occurrence of some form of excessive force by police. The right thing to do is talk to an experienced attorney who will clarify your doubts and let you know if your excessive force claims can stand on solid ground.

Take the first step and make sure you can defend your rights, and ultimately help bring the issue of excessive force to greater awareness.

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 Excessive Force 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.