Civil rights attorneys serve an important role by helping people whose constitutional rights have been violated. They are an integral safeguard in our society and ensure that when the government has overstepped its bounds, someone is holding them accountable. Civil rights violations are often committed by the very people who are sworn to protect and serve us, such as law enforcement officers.
If you believe a government actor has violated your civil rights, contact Brian Zeiger for a free consultation. We can explain if you have a viable claim and what we can do to help you.
What Is a Civil Rights Lawyer?
A civil rights lawyer is someone who focuses on constitutional law. They fight for justice for their clients and uphold their rights when they are violated by law enforcement or other government actors. A civil rights lawyer can help if your civil rights were violated, such as if you were wrongfully arrested, searched, or mistreated.
What Do Civil Rights Lawyers Do?
Civil rights lawyers perform many functions, including:
- Preserving persuasive evidence
- Researching relevant case law
- Drafting legal motions
- Filing lawsuits against governmental actors and entities
- Arguing cases in court and through pre-trial motions
- Raising defenses in criminal cases
- Negotiating settlements with governmental entities
When Do I Need a Civil Rights Attorney?
You need a civil rights attorney if your civil rights have been violated. A civil rights lawyer can provide legal assistance and guide you through the process of obtaining justice. While you may consider handling your legal claim on your own, civil rights claims are highly complex. There may be very strict filing requirements, both as to the timing and the substance of your complaint. Additionally, it may be difficult for you to obtain the evidence you need to establish your claim without the help of a seasoned lawyer.
A civil rights lawyer can honestly assess your case, help you substantiate your claim, and pursue appropriate relief after your civil rights have been violated.
Common Types of Civil Rights Violations
Civil rights violations occur when the government violates your rights, not a private individual. Brian Zeiger represents individuals after their rights are violated by law enforcement or the prosecution. Some of the types of claims our firm handles include:
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from police officers’ use of unreasonable methods of search and seizure. Police are prohibited from searching an individual or their home without a valid search warrant or probable cause. If an officer has probable cause to believe an individual committed a crime, a subsequent arrest is reasonable, and the Fourth Amendment has not been violated. However, if the court determines the police lacked probable cause, the search and seizure may be deemed unreasonable and a violation of the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Probable cause requires sufficient evidence such that a reasonable person would believe a crime had been committed. Police officers are permitted to make an arrest without a warrant when they observe the commission of a felony or misdemeanor. In some states, under some circumstances, the law permits warrantless arrests for misdemeanor domestic assaults that were not committed in the officer’s presence.
Sometimes officers depend on information to find probable cause that ultimately proves to be false. However, the officer will not be liable for a violation of Fourth Amendment protections if he or she reasonably believed the information to be true at the time of the arrest.
A claim for false imprisonment does not necessarily require that an individual was falsely placed in jail. An officer may be liable for false imprisonment if they unlawfully detain an individual in a manner that substantially interferes with their personal freedom. For example, an officer’s use of unauthorized bodily restraints may be the basis of a false imprisonment claim.
If an individual has been falsely accused of a crime without probable cause, they may have a claim for malicious prosecution. Malicious prosecution is a violation of an individual’s Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty.
To prove malicious prosecution, the victim must show:
- Law enforcement officials began a criminal proceeding
- There was no probable cause
- The victim was not convicted
- The proceeding was brought with malice toward the victim
Malicious prosecution claims sometimes arise in situations in which law enforcement seeks to harass a person by pursuing criminal proceedings. Officers may attempt to harm a person’s reputation by falsely accusing them of a crime, divert attention from the real perpetrator of the crime, or cover up police misconduct.
According to a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, excessive force refers to force beyond what the officer reasonably believes is necessary. In determining whether force is excessive, courts consider whether the officer’s use of force exceeded the limits of their authority.
In some situations, police officers may be justified to use deadly force. However, deadly force is only permitted in extreme circumstances. Generally, officers may use force that can cause death or serious bodily harm only in dire conditions after other methods have failed to control the situation.
In 2017, to address the issue of excessive force, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published the National Consensus Policy on the Use of Force. The Policy was developed to guide police departments on the use of less-than-deadly force. The guidelines urge officers to use de-escalation techniques to control a situation before considering the use of violent measures.
A taser gun shoots small barbed darts, which remain attached to the target and deliver a strong electric shock intended to physically incapacitate the victim. Every state permits the use of tasers for law enforcement officers. However, individual police departments determine the guidelines for their officer’s use of tasers when restraining individuals.
According to Reuters, approximately 49 people died in one recent year after being incapacitated by an officer’s taser. The number of deaths is relatively the same as those reported in both years immediately preceding the report More than 1,000 people have died from police taser use since 2000. More than 90 percent of those killed were unarmed and approximately 25 percent suffered from mental disabilities.
The term racial profiling refers to the actions of police officers that single out suspects based on the person’s race, national origin, ethnic background, or religion. The public has become more aware of racial profiling in recent years. However, even five years after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, African American men are still disproportionately experiencing incidents of police brutality.
According to a recent study, African American men have a far greater risk of being killed by the police than white men. Over the course of a lifetime, one of every 1,000 African American men will experience a fatal encounter with the police. It is often difficult to identify racial profiling. In Pennsylvania, the State Police Department does not collect data on the race of drivers who are subjected to a traffic stop.
Police body cameras record footage and sounds of police interactions with the public. Proponents of body cameras claim they reduce potential police misconduct and assert that the footage can be a valuable training tool. On the other hand, the use of body cameras raises concerns regarding violations of privacy.
There are other civil rights violations, including:
- Unreasonable searches and seizures
- Cruel and unusual punishment
- Abuse by a public official
- Discrimination on the basis of age, color, sex, or national origin
A civil rights lawyer can help uphold your rights after the government has trampled on them and seek appropriate relief for the harm you have suffered.
What Can a Civil Rights Attorney Do for Me?
A civil rights attorney can help you show that your rights were violated and fight for justice on your behalf. It is often difficult to bring a claim against law enforcement or the government and get fair due process. To establish your claim, your lawyer may need to gather persuasive evidence, such as:
- Photos or videos of your rights being violated
- Eyewitness statements
- Personnel records that show a pattern of misconduct
- Dashcam footage of a wrongful arrest
- Medical records that evidence physical injuries
Your civil rights lawyer can help you prove that a law enforcement officer violated your rights and injured you as a result. Civil rights claims can be complex and involve complicated procedural requirements. A civil rights lawyer can help explain the requirements and guide you throughout the process.
Contact Brian Zeiger Today for Help with Your Civil Rights Claim
If your civil rights were violated, do not hesitate to contact Brian Zeiger. The Zeiger Firm is known for its preparation and attention to detail, which has been a crucial factor in our success. We provide a free consultation to assess your case and explain your legal options.