The news has been flooded lately with videos and testimonies of the use of excessive force by police officers. The “Black Lives Matter” campaign and the sadly consistent cell phone videos of police attacking unarmed civilians brings the subject of excessive force to the forefront.
For their own safety, police officers are granted the authority to determine when and how much force is required in a given situation. If they feel their lives or the lives of bystanders are in danger, they are permitted and even expected to use the force necessary to subdue the suspect. However, when a civilian’s civil liberties are violated as a result of an officer’s decision to use force, the injured party (whether guilty of the accused crime or not) may have a federal case for police brutality. This civil case could either help or hurt his criminal case.
Positive and Negative Effects of an Excessive Force Claim on Your Defense
When you’re accused of a crime, no matter the severity, you are guaranteed certain rights by the Constitution of the United States. It doesn’t matter if you’re being pulled over for a traffic violation, or being accused of a felony, your civil rights can’t be ignored. One of these rights deals with equal protection. If an officer uses excessive force on you and causes severe injuries, he has violated your civil rights.
But what does this mean for your defense? Plenty.
The legal risks of pursuing a police brutality case during a criminal case include:
- Trial postponements. If you are hospitalized, your trial can be postponed allowing prosecutors more time to build their case. On the flip side, if you’re severely injured, your lawyer can make recommendations to postpone your hearing until you’re able to safely represent yourself.
- Incentive to maliciously prosecute. Filing a civil claim or lawsuit while your criminal case is pending might cause the government to work harder to secure your conviction.
- Negative full disclosure. When pursuing your claim you’ll be required to make statements about the incident, which in turn could provide “discovery” or evidence of guilt for the prosecution of your criminal case.
The legal options available if you wait until after your criminal trial to pursue your civil suit include:
- Positive “discovery.” You may find that your criminal defense attorney has gathered valuable discovery in your criminal case. Ultimately, benefitting your civil suit.
- Plea bargain. Once your criminal trial is underway, you can use the leverage of the civil rights violation to help your plea bargain.
Bringing a civil rights charge for police brutality against an arresting officer or police department could help or hurt your defense. However, an experienced lawyer such as Darwyn Easley can make sure that the effects of inexcusable police actions are used in your favor, not against you.