Using an excessive degree of force for the circumstances violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This Amendment protects individuals—including those who have been suspected or accused of committing a crime—from unreasonable and intrusive searches and seizures. While Police officers may using force on occasion is part of the job, police officers must be careful not to use a level of force considered excessive under given circumstances.
When a police officer uses excessive force against a suspect, the suspect may potentially suffer one or more physical injuries, as well as mental anguish and other types of emotional trauma. In these cases, the victim may file a lawsuit not only against the arresting police officer, but also in some cases against the city, county, or other municipality where the police officer works.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of excessive force at the hands of an overzealous police officer, it is important that you have knowledgeable and informed legal counsel on your side representing you throughout your case. The federal civil rights lawyers at The Zeiger Firm are ready to assist you with filing your lawsuit and pursuing your case against the offending police officer and/or the municipality that employs the officer.
Call us today to learn more about how we can assist you with your case against a police officer who used excessive force. Our office regularly takes on federal cases that arise in the following Eastern District of Pennsylvania counties: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia.
Civil versus Criminal Cases
Even though wrongful actions by police officers may happen when the officer is in the process of making a criminal arrest, excessive force by a police officer is a civil wrong. This is because in excessive force cases, the suspect (or the plaintiff) suffers one or more personal injuries (or even death) when the officer uses a greater degree of force than necessary while making an arrest.
In many excessive force cases, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit against the police officer for civil assault and battery—both of which are intentional tort offenses. In some cases, the plaintiff may sue the officer for negligence, which is also a tort.
Also, when a plaintiff suspect makes a civil claim against an offending police officer and/or the police officer’s employer (such as the municipality or police department), both the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the Fourth Amendment (which protects against unreasonable seizures) may come into play.
What Degree of Force Is Excessive?
When defending themselves against physical harm or making an arrest, police officers—including those who work for the county, city, or state—may use any amount of force that is necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. In determining what amounts to “reasonable” force under the circumstances, most juries look to how a person with the same amount of knowledge, training, and experience as the offending police officer might have acted under the same or similar circumstances. In torts, this standard is known as the “reasonable” person standard.
For example, if the police officer is trying to make an arrest and the suspect is resisting or becoming violent, then the officer is permitted to use a greater degree of force than he or she would be allowed to use if the suspect were following the officer’s instructions and being compliant. In addition, if the officer reasonably believes that the suspect is threatening him or her with serious bodily harm or death, then the officer may use a reciprocal amount of force against the suspect.
In some cases, police officers are trying to arrest a suspect who is fleeing the scene or otherwise resisting arrest. When it comes to using force under those circumstances, an officer must consider whether the suspect may have committed a misdemeanor offense or a felony offense. Generally speaking, the more serious the suspected offense, the more force an arresting police officer may use during the process of catching and apprehending the suspect.
Proving an Excessive Force Case Against a Police Officer or Municipality
Proving that a police officer used an excessive amount of force when apprehending a suspect can be difficult. For example, the law presumes in some jurisdictions that the accused police officer did what he or she was supposed to do and acted with the degree of force that was both necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. In those cases, it is then up to the suspect (that is, the plaintiff) to prove otherwise.
Moreover, just because the plaintiff is found guilty or convicted of the crime that formed the basis for the arrest does not automatically mean that the police officer used reasonable force under the circumstances. However, if the plaintiff can demonstrate that he or she is innocent of the underlying crime, that may demonstrate that the police officer used excessive force under the circumstances.
Call Us Today to Speak With a Federal Civil Rights Attorney
When police officers use an excessive amount of force against an individual during the course of an arrest, they can bring about injuries—and sometimes even an unnecessary death. If you or someone you love has sustained injuries at the hands of an overzealous police officer, you may be entitled to pursue monetary compensation against the police officer, as well as the police department or municipality that employs the officer.
The knowledgeable team of federal civil rights attorneys at The Zeiger Firm will vigorously advocate on your behalf and help you to pursue the compensation you need for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with our federal civil rights attorneys, please call us at (215) 546-0340 or contact us online today to learn more.