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In the age of increased police accountability and the public becoming more aware that police officers sometimes get it wrong and run afoul of the law themselves, civil rights and police misconduct lawsuits are taking center stage. While not new, civil rights lawsuits against cities and police officers are gaining more attention. Before delving into whether or not you can sue for police brutality and misconduct let’s take a step back and learn a little about the law that allows a person to sue the police.

In 1871, the United States Congress passed 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as section one of the “Ku Klux Klan Act”, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The legislation was originally intended to provide an avenue to enforcing the rights of former slaves established by the Civil Rights Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).

In the 140 years since its passage, the broad language of Section 1983 has led to it being used as the primary source for citizens to seek justice (or redress) for police abuses and misconduct. Specifically, Section 1983 states:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.”

Section 1983 does not provide any rights. Rather it is the vehicle that you use to vindicate your rights when your rights have been violated.

When Can I Use Section 1983 To Sue The Police For Brutality & Misconduct?

If you’re wondering if Section 1983 helps you seek justice for civil rights violations you suffered as a result of police brutality and misconduct, the answer is a resounding yes. The vast majority of lawsuits filed by civil rights lawyers on behalf of victims against cities and police officers for police brutality and misconduct are filed in federal court using Section 1983. You, as the complaining party, would be the Plaintiff bringing the lawsuit and the respective municipality and police officers who would be the defendants. And if your case does not settle, you have the right to present your case before a jury of your peers at a trial and seek money damages for your physical and emotional injuries.

Major cities like Chicago routinely pay out millions of dollars a year to settle police brutality and civil rights lawsuits. In 2018, the City of Chicago spent more than $118 million on civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.  Since 2011, Chicago has spent over $500 million on police misconduct cases.

These lawsuits aren’t just about getting money. Chicago police misconduct and civil rights attorneys have used Section 1983 as a means to hold cities like Chicago accountable when police officers violate the law and also to force the Chicago Police Department to change, and provide compensation for those who have been wronged by the very people we trust to uphold the law.

Common Types Of Civil Rights Claims Brought Under Section 1983 By Civil Rights Attorneys

As mentioned above, Section 1983 does not provide any rights. But rather it is the vehicle that you use to vindicate your rights that have been violated by the police. The United States constitution provides lots of protection to citizens when dealing with the police.

When dealing with the public and carrying out their duties, the police must stay within the confines of the United States Constitution. Some common police abuse and misconduct violations that are brought by civil rights attorneys under Section 1983 consist of the following:

  • Malicious Prosecution
  • Police Brutality/Excessive Force
  • False Arrest
  • Warrantless Searches and Seizures
  • Unlawful Investigative/Street Stops
  • Warrantless Home Entries
  • Warrantless Body Searches
  • Unjustified Shootings
  • Unjustified Tasings
  • Failing to Intervene When Witnessing Another Officer Commit Police Misconduct
  • Failure to Provide Medical Care While in Police Custody
  • Due Process Violations
  • Wrongful Convictions
  • Wrongful Deaths

What To Do If You Believe You’ve Been The Victim Of Police Misconduct?

If you believe you’ve been the victim of police misconduct and are wondering if you should file a civil rights lawsuit, the first thing you should do is speak to a police misconduct and civil rights lawyer. There are time periods called statute of limitations for which you have to file a lawsuit and you don’t want to delay in using Section 1983 to seek justice and vindicate your rights. The statute of limitations varies from state to state but you don’t want to delay before deciding to file a civil rights lawsuit. That’s why it’s important to consult a civil rights lawyer as soon as possible.  Using an experienced police misconduct lawyer who knows how to litigate civil rights cases is key. Civil rights law is a very niche area of the law that not all attorneys have experience in. Choosing the right attorney for your case is crucial. Cities often fight civil rights lawsuits aggressively to avoid paying victims and it’s imperative that you have an attorney that knows how to fight them.

If you believe you believe you’ve been the victim of police misconduct complete the form below to contact an experienced Chicago civil rights and police misconduct lawyer about your case.  

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