With the rise of smartphone video capability and the ability to share video across social media easily, we have seen a rise in awareness of the excessive force and police brutality tactics that victimize people of all races and backgrounds. In 1991, camcorder footage of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King galvanized (and, to some extent, polarized) the nation. Several decades later, it seems every week brings new images and stories of police officers using extreme and sometimes deadly force on suspects in what seem like unnecessary applications of force. Under New Jersey and federal law, we have protections against police brutality and the use of excessive force by law enforcement, and those who have been victimized may have the right to win financial recovery for their injuries.
Your Fourth Amendment Right Against Police Brutality
Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we all have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Courts have allowed victims of police brutality to bring excessive force claims for money damages based on their Fourth Amendment rights being violated.
Courts Will Apply a Reasonableness Standard
The Third Circuit addressed the standards for a Fourth Amendment civil rights claim in a 2011 case brought against the New Jersey State Police Department, the State of New Jersey, and several New Jersey police officers after officers killed a man by firing 39 shots. They claimed they believed he was reaching for a gun, whereas he was actually holding a crack pipe.
In that case, the Third Circuit ruled that, to prevail on a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, the plaintiff must prove that the officers’ conduct was unreasonable under the circumstances. Courts will not “Monday morning quarterback” a police officer’s actions (in the words of the court) to determine whether a mistake was made or not, but will instead evaluate whether a reasonable officer in the same position as the officer would have used such force.
In the case of deadly force, the court held that, “It is unreasonable for an officer to use deadly force against a suspect unless the officer has good reason to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
When non-deadly force is used, a similar standard will be applied in determining whether the officer was justified in using force, by asking questions such as whether force was necessary to protect the officer, others on the scene, the victim himself, or property.
The court also pointed that, “Even where an officer is initially justified in using force, he may not continue to use such force after it has become evident that the threat justifying the force has vanished.”
The Importance of an Experienced Civil Rights Attorney
If “reasonableness” sounds like a vague and flexible standard, it certainly is. Every situation is different, and courts will do an intense investigation into the facts surrounding the use of force and compare them to similar cases to determine whether a case may be heard by jury. Thus, in bringing a police brutality case, it is often critical to work with experienced civil rights attorneys who can present compelling case to judges and juries on both the law and the facts relating to the specific use of force.
Contact a New Jersey Civil Rights Attorney Today
The experienced civil rights attorneys at SK Law have won over $90 million in compensation for our clients through settlements and verdicts, including a $41 million verdict (reached with co-counsel) in a civil rights case in which firm co-founder David Kreizer’s represented Korey Wise, who, as a member of the “Central Park 5,” was wrongfully convicted of raping and attempting to murder a 28-year old Wall Street investment banker jogging through Central Park. Contact us today to speak to a civil rights attorney about how we can help you and your family win the justice and financial recovery that you deserve under New Jersey law.