April 10, 2020 | Criminal Law
Police officers are not above the law. When they make errors or cross the line into illegal conduct, they can be held accountable for their wrongdoing.
A law enforcement officer may not commit a crime while on duty or off duty. In either case, the law holds the officer accountable for his or her actions.
Police officers who commit crimes face the same criminal penalties as other citizens. If a police officer is guilty of domestic violence, hit and run, or any other crime, a judge can sentence the officer to the same punishments as you face. The officer can serve time in prison, pay fines, and be on probation.
However, general crimes are not the only things that a cop can do that would be illegal. Some of the actions that police officers take during the course of their jobs may be considered illegal if those actions violate your civil rights.
Police Officers Cannot Abuse Their Power to Arrest Individuals Without Cause
Arresting a person is a powerful tool for law enforcement. Arrests are made when a person is suspected of committing a crime. However, some officers misuse arrests for various reasons.
A police officer in Providence, KY, was found guilty in 2018 of wrongful arrest. The person arrested had attempted to file several complaints against the police officer.
The officer arrested a victim without probable cause. Because the officer did not have probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, the officer violated the person’s Fourth Amendment rights.
However, false arrests can also violate a person’s Fourteenth Amendment to the right of due process and the person’s Eighth Amendment right not to be subject to cruel or unusual punishment.
False or Wrongful Arrests can Lead to Evidence Being Thrown Out
If a police officer arrests a person without cause, any evidence obtained pursuant to the wrongful arrest is inadmissible in court. The exclusionary rule prohibits prosecutors from using evidence obtained during an unlawful or false arrest against a defendant in court. Without that evidence, there may not be a valid case against the person.
The exclusionary rule protects individuals from having their rights violated. It discourages law enforcement agencies from using arrests as an unlawful way to obtain more evidence when they do not have enough evidence or probable cause to support an arrest. Other forms of police misconduct could lead to the use of the exclusionary rule.
Other Examples of Police Misconduct and Wrongdoing
In addition to false arrests, there is a long list of things that cops cannot do legally while performing their jobs. Individuals need to understand their legal rights when interacting with police officers.
Examples of actions taken by police officers that may be considered wrongful or illegal:
- Police officers cannot conduct searches and seizures without a warrant or probable cause, unless the person is already under arrest. If the arrest is false, any evidence obtained typically falls under the exclusionary rule.
- Before stopping a vehicle, the officer must have reasonable cause to believe a crime has been or is being committed.
- If the evidence is in plain sight, police officers can search a vehicle or person without consent or a search warrant. However, there could be a valid defense regarding whether the evidence was in plain sight.
- Officers can lie to individuals. But, they are not allowed to claim they have a warrant when they do not have a warrant or say that they are specific individuals, such as a priest, to obtain a confession. They also cannot lie about how the legal system works.
- Police officers cannot use bribery to obtain evidence or use intimidation to obtain a confession.
Police misconduct includes a wide variety of actions that law enforcement officers may use during an investigation, encounters with citizens, or arrest. Surveillance abuse, planting evidence, racial profiling, excessive force, corruption, false imprisonment, and assault are just a few more examples of illegal acts committed by police officers.
What Should I do if I Believe a Police Officer is Guilty of Misconduct?
If you believe your Constitutional rights were violated or a police officer is guilty of misconduct, contact a criminal defense attorney.
Arguing with a police officer or resisting arrest can give an officer probable cause for the arrest. Police are permitted to pat you down to ensure that you are not carrying a dangerous weapon.
However, do not consent to a search of your person, belongings, vehicle, or home. You may not be able to prevent a police officer from conducting an unlawful search, but verbally objecting to the search before and after it begins can help you preserve your legal rights in a later proceeding.
If you are arrested, remain silent except for asking for an attorney. A criminal defense attorney can help you determine if the cops did anything illegal. Your attorney also assists you in formulating a defense strategy that may result in a dismissal of charges and compensation for damages if the police officer is guilty of misconduct or wrongdoing.