If you have been injured while being detained or placed under arrest by an officer of the law, you may be able to claim that excessive or unreasonable force was used. However, the burden of proof in these cases is higher than simply going beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to actually win one of these cases, you’ll need to team up with an experienced excessive force lawyer and prepare an airtight case.
Due to the doctrine of qualified immunity, it can be very difficult to receive an award from the jury for a case involving excessive or unnecessary force. However, the law does allow for officers and their departments to be held liable if they violated your constitutional rights. Since the constitution grants us all the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, this is generally what we aim to target in these cases. Here is what to do.
HOW CAN YOU PROVE EXCESSIVE FORCE? 5 STEPS TO FOLLOW
1. GET LEGAL REPRESENTATION RIGHT AWAY
The first step in any case like this is to immediately seek out legal counsel. If you were arrested for a crime, you ought to have already procured a defense attorney to help you with your criminal case. However, you may want to consider another lawyer for your civil case, especially if your defense attorney lacks experience in this highly specialized area of law. Why is it so important to hire an excessive force lawyer quickly?
When it comes to civil suits involving personal injury and the conduct of an officer of the law, you start out at a disadvantage. Juries tend to trust the words of a police officer and give officers considerable leeway in their use of force. By filing your suit as soon as possible, you make it clear that you truly feel wronged and are seeking justice. Waiting could be perceived as trying to “cash in” after the fact.
2. DEMONSTRATE YOUR BEHAVIOR LEADING UP TO YOUR ARREST
One of the most important factors that will influence the jury’s decision is whether or not the force used by the officer was warranted given the circumstances. Therefore, your behavior leading up to your detention or arrest is going to be the main focus of the case. Naturally, more force is needed if someone is resisting arrest or being uncooperative with the officer’s instructions. Conversely, the threshold for excessive use of force is reduced when the victim complied with instructions.
The nature of the arrest is also a contributing factor. If you had just committed a violent crime or were thought to be the perpetrator, juries are more likely to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. However, if you can demonstrate that the officer should have realized they had the wrong suspect or employed unnecessary force to arrest you for a non-violent crime, you may be able to strengthen your case.
3. GATHER AS MUCH EVIDENCE AS POSSIBLE
While the police report and your testimony will serve as the basis for your case, you’ll want to gather much more evidence to fortify your case. You should start by gathering any medical records if you received medical attention after the altercation. Bills from the hospital, prescriptions, and descriptions of your injuries can all be used to demonstrate that force was used beyond what was needed.
Nevertheless, you will likely need more than medical records and a police report to get very far with your case. Consider some other sources that you can use to increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
Expert testimony can include the testimony of other officers or legal experts who can evaluate the force used against you. Other officers’ testimonies were instrumental in the recent trial of Derek Chauvin, for instance. However, getting officers to testify can be difficult. Instead, you may want to ask a doctor or psychologist for their testimony if you sought treatment for your injuries.
A doctor can lend much more weight to the medical records presented and can describe the force used to cause your injuries.
The most valuable piece of evidence is a video of your interactions with law enforcement during the altercation. However, such evidence can be difficult to obtain. If you were not filming the interaction yourself, you’ll have to rely on other sources of footage. It’s never too late to seek out additional video sources. Where should you look?
Start with your surroundings. Where were you at the time of the incident? Security cameras could provide the evidence you need. Were other people around? Perhaps a vehicle with a dash cam or another individual recorded the event. There are other options you can resort to if needed.
OBTAINING BODYCAM FOOTAGE
If police officers in your jurisdiction use bodycams, you can request the footage from the police department to support your case. If officers should have had this footage, but cannot provide it, this can also be a positive development for your suit.
You should attempt to request this footage as soon as possible. Some departments delete footage at specified intervals, meaning you could lose this valuable data if you don’t act quickly.
USE YOUR CRIMINAL CASE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Typically, civil cases occur after a criminal case is resolved. The outcome of your criminal case can be an important factor in determining the outcome of your civil suit. Juries are less likely to support a convicted criminal in a civil case related to their arrest for a crime they were ultimately sentenced for.
On the other hand, if the officer that caused you harm had the wrong person, and you were released without charges at all, then that is the best possible outcome. If you were charged with a crime but then had the charges dropped or were proven innocent in court, that can also support your civil case.
4. CONSIDER THE OFFICER’S AND DEPARTMENT’S RECORD
Your excessive force lawyer can request information from the police department to help support your case. A record of complaints against the offending officer or against the department can be used to demonstrate negligence. If previous complaints went unaddressed, your lawyer can make the argument that this department had an ongoing problem that was never resolved.
While these records do not prove whether or not unreasonable force was used against you, they can add credence to your case and could be useful in swaying a jury’s opinion.
5. PRESENT YOUR CASE WITH CLARITY
With all of your documents, testimonies, and supporting evidence gathered up, you’ll need to present your case. This is where your lawyer takes the reins and leads the charge. As the plaintiff, you may be subjected to some difficult questions. Keep your composure and make every effort to stay as objective as possible, even when your emotions try to get the better of you.
Cases involving excessive use of force are complex and require expert support to have any chance of success. Do not even consider representing yourself in court, as this will almost certainly lead to a dismissal of the case. Your best bet is to rely on an experienced excessive force lawyer. Call us for a free case evaluation to see how we can help you fight for what you deserve.