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Police Misconduct at a Glance

Federal Law Enforcement Rules to Know

Over the past decade, at least 85,000 law enforcement officers in the US have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct, according to an investigation by USA TODAY Network. Reporters from the Network and members of the Chicago nonprofit, Invisible Institute, compiled the largest collection of police misconduct records, which revealed at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct.

With this staggering data in mind, police officers must be aware of the several state and federal laws to follow, or else they may get accused of law enforcement misconduct. Under federal law, “Whoever, under color of any law … willfully subjects any person …. to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States [shall be guilty of a crime].”

Thus, to prove that an officer violated the federal law enforcement misconduct statute, prosecutors have the burden of proving the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The police officer deprived the victim of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
  • The police officer acted willfully.
  • The police officer was acting under color of law.

For background, “color of law” means that a person is exercising authority that was granted to them by a local, state, or federal government agency. You must also keep in mind that even if the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your Constitutional rights were violated, it must also establish that the crime was committed intentionally. As such, prosecutors must prove that the police officer knew what they were doing was wrong and illegal but decided to do it anyway.

If convicted of police misconduct, an officer may get a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the circumstances of their crime. For instance, an officer may get convicted of a felony if they meet one of the following conditions:

  • They used, attempted to use, or threatened to use a dangerous weapon, explosive, or fire.
  • The victim suffered bodily injury.
  • Their actions included attempted murder, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse or attempted aggravated sexual abuse, or the crime resulted in death.

Common types of police misconduct include:

Physical assault: Allegations of excessive force are common against police officers. However, the victim’s custodial status plays a large role in determining which constitutional right was violated. For example, if the victim was arrested or detained, or was being held in jail but not yet convicted, the prosecution usually must prove that the police officer used more force than is reasonably necessary to arrest or control the victim. If the victim is a convicted prisoner, the prosecution must show that the officer used physical force to punish, retaliate against, or otherwise punish an inmate, rather than use such force to:

  • Protect themself or others from harm
  • Maintain order in the correctional facility

Sexual misconduct: Includes rape, sexual contact procured by force or threat of force or coercion, and unwanted or gratuitous sexual contact such as touching or groping.

Deliberate indifference to a serious medical condition or a substantial risk of harm: To convict an officer for deliberate indifference, the prosecution must prove that the victim faced a substantial risk of serious harm, the officer had actual knowledge of the risk of harm, and that officer failed to take reasonable measures to reduce it.

Failure to intervene: An officer who purposely allows a fellow officer to violate a victim’s constitutional rights may be prosecuted for failing to intervene to stop such violation. To prosecute an officer for this crime, the prosecution must show that the officer was aware of the violation, had an opportunity to intervene, and chose not to do so.

Are You a Police Officer Facing Criminal Charges?

Police officers have the difficult yet crucial task of protecting and serving citizens of the United States. As a result, they are often placed under a microscope and scrutinized every day, both on a private and public scale. Unfortunately, this may result in accusations of law enforcement misconduct that must not go unaddressed.

If you are a police officer facing trouble with the law, our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyers are on your side. As former prosecutors, we understand the challenges of enforcing the law and how easily a situation can get misconstrued by an alleged victim. Thus, you can count on us to provide the powerhouse defense you need and deserve while protecting your legal rights every stay of the way.

Experience the difference that 40 combined years of legal experience can make in your life. Contact Appel & Morse online or at (805) 467-6060 to schedule a free consultation!