When people discuss police misconduct, their focus is often on the unnecessary use of physical force. Unjustified fatal shootings and aggressive police behavior that cause injuries in minor situations often lead to accusations of misconduct against the officers involved. Such scenarios may lead to intense scrutiny from the public and the national media, especially when there is video footage of the misconduct.
Police misconduct certainly does include inappropriate physical force used by police officers. However, police misconduct is a much broader issue than just violence. There are numerous other forms of police misconduct that could affect someone’s personal safety or lead to unfair criminal charges.
What is police misconduct?
Under federal law, police misconduct is behavior that deprives certain people of rights that they have under the Constitution or other federal laws. According to information provided by the United States Department of Justice, police misconduct includes false arrests, discrimination, coercive sexual conduct and unlawful searches. The officers misuse their authority to intimidate, abuse or otherwise harm someone in state custody or subject to arrest.
Typically, police misconduct involves a pattern of behavior, not just one isolated incident. When a police officer threatens a person under investigation to pressure them into sexual activity, when they manipulate individuals for personal financial profit or when they otherwise abuse their authority and deprive others of their lawful rights, then they may open themselves up to claims of professional misconduct.
How does misconduct affect criminal defendants?
The most obvious consequences of police misconduct are personal injury and physiological trauma. In some cases, police misconduct may lead to charges against someone or affect the evidence that the state has.
Some people may be able to invoke the exclusionary rule during criminal proceedings to keep a prosecutor from using evidence gathered through police misconduct. In rare cases, the Department of Justice might take action against individual police departments or investigate how they operate. In extreme cases, someone affected by police misconduct may have grounds to bring a claim against the officer or police department involved in the situation.
Learning the basics about police misconduct and violations of your civil rights will help you better navigate interactions with law enforcement in the future.