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Can I Sue the Police in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Individuals who have been the victim of police misconduct in California may file a criminal complaint.  However, various types of police misconduct could constitute a crime, civil cause of action, or both. Victims may consider filing a civil rights lawsuit in order to be financially compensated for the harm they suffered if a police department or individual officer is found civilly liable.

The California Tort Claims Act requires a written claim to be filed within the six-month time limit before a lawsuit may be filed against the state, county, governmental agency or government employee. Some of the more common California torts for which law enforcement may include:

  • battery
  • wrongful death
  • false imprisonment
  • false arrest
  • negligence
  • defamation

Additionally, victims of police misconduct may also sue the police on the basis of constitutional violations under the First, Fourth as well as Eighth Amendments.

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Suing the police in California
  • First Amendment

Under the First Amendment, police officers may be sued for retaliating against individuals engaged in protected freedom of speech.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizures. If the police conduct an illegal search without a proper warrant, victims may file a civil lawsuit.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits government officers from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. The police may be sued for subjecting a victim to unreasonable pain or torment while incarcerated.

Section 1983 of the United States Code permits victims of police misconduct to file a civil lawsuit against government actors who have significantly harmed them while acting under the "color of state law." A  Section 1983 claim requires the victim to prove all of the following:

  • There was a violation of the victim's constitutional rights;
  • The perpetrator of the constitutional violation was committed by an individual acting under color of law (such as a police officer); and
  • The government agent who committed the violation was not immune from liability.

Depending upon the police misconduct and cause of action for the civil tort lawsuit, victims may receive compensatory damages, payment for pain and suffering, loss of income, and punitive damages.  If your constitutional rights have been violated by the police, contact us to discuss your case. (Also refer to our articles, "What if cops get caught writing a false police report in California?" and "Informants must meet certain standards under California law.")

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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