Was I a Victim of Police Brutality or Misconduct?

When Pennsylvania police are observing due process, and when they violate civil rights

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on December 11, 2023

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Police officers are supposed to protect and serve citizens and the community. Unfortunately, officers do not always live up to this duty. Police violence is a serious problem whenever it occurs, and victims of excessive force or due process violations have legal options to pursue justice.

If you or your loved one was a victim, there are legal options available. You can bring a civil rights lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police or a local law enforcement department if your due process rights were violated. This raises an important question: What is the standard for police brutality or misconduct?

Know Your Due Process Rights

The right to due process is a foundational constitutional protection. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the government cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property” without due process of law.

Due process is fair treatment under the law. What that means in any specific case depends on many different factors, but the overriding principle is clear: When interacting with a citizen—whether controlling traffic, conducting a search, or making an arrest—a law enforcement officer must respect each person’s legal rights.

Civil Right Litigation Against Police Misconduct

Most police brutality and police misconduct civil rights cases are brought under federal law 42 U.S. Code § 1983. This statute gives people a private right of action to hold a police department or law enforcement agency legally liable for a civil rights violation.

You may be able to bring a Section 1983 lawsuit on the following grounds:

1. Excessive Force

Officers must use only what force is necessary to control the situation. In Section 1983 claims, excessive force has been defined as force greater than the use of force a reasonable police officer would have believed to be necessary given the circumstances.

The appropriate force depends on many factors, including the conduct of the person being arrested or detained.

2. False Arrest/False Imprisonment

It is unlawful for police to deny a person of their rights or liberties.

A defendant arrested on false grounds or imprisonment in violation of their due process rights can sue to hold the responsible department legally accountable for taking away their freedom.

3. Prison Abuse or Negligence

Prisons also have the legal duty to respect civil rights. Through a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit, a prison can be held liable for prison guard abuse, wrongful mistreatment, or serious negligence.

Find an Experienced Civil Rights Lawyer

If you were a victim of police misconduct such as excessive force or racial profiling, you may be entitled to compensation through a Section 1983 lawsuit or state laws.

Civil rights cases are complex. If you have any specific questions or concerns about your legal rights and remedies, contact an experienced civil rights lawyer in your jurisdiction for help. An attorney will be able to review your abuse case and explain what you need to do next to get justice and police accountability.

For more information on this area of law, see our civil rights overview.

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