Law enforcement officers exist to protect and to serve the public. The police perform a vital function in our society. However, the police and other law enforcement officials are required to function within the law. Not only are the police to protect us from harm inflicted by others, but to also protect the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. If the police cause violations or fail to protect us from violations, the individual law enforcement officers and the public entity (states, counties, cities, towns, school districts, etc.) must be held accountable for the misconduct. The following describes your Federal and Arizona constitutional rights and your rights to obtain public information.
Federal Constitutional Rights
The United States Code Title 42, Section 1983, was created specifically to protect us from civil rights violations. The civil rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution include:
- Freedom of religion, speech, and assembly (first amendment);
- Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures (fourth amendment);
- Protection from forced testimony against ones self (fifth amendment);
- Safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment (eighth amendment);
- Due process and equal protection of the law (fourth amendment)
If a law enforcement officer intentionally deprives you of the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution you may hold the law enforcement officer accountable in a court of law. If a law enforcement officer has intentionally violated one of your constitutional rights, the officer must compensate you for the violation and any injury resulting from the violation. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 also states that if the public entity has a policy, custom, or practice of violating constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, the public entity can be held accountable in a court of law.
Arizona Constitutional Rights
Arizona also limits the authority and the rights of law enforcement officials. The police must act reasonably in enforcing the law. If the police intentionally cause injury or carelessly and negligently inflict injury, you may hold the individual officers and the public entity accountable for the violations and injuries in court.
The violations may include:
- False arrest;
- Abuse of power;
- Unreasonable or excessive force;
- Police brutality;
- Unlawful use of weapons;
- Entering a home without a warrant;
- Taking control of an individual and ordering the individual to do something that results in injury;
- Failing to protect an individual when the officer is responsible for the individual;
- Carelessly causing a death;
- Violating the law or departmental policies in a high speed pursuit;
abusing a prisoner;
- Failing to protect a prisoner from injury or suicide.
Rights to Information and Records
There is another way that the law protects individual rights. A.R.S. § 39-121, et seq. requires all public officials to keep a record of the performance of their duties and permits every citizen to inspect and copy the records. Under the public records act, citizens are entitled to receive copies of the public records. This means that the citizen is generally permitted to receive duplicates of the tape recordings of 911 calls, police dispatch communications, police reports, photographs, departmental policies and procedures, etc. There are limitations on the right to have the records and some of the records, such as tape recordings on a 24 hour tape, may not be kept forever. It is important, therefore, to get advice from a qualified attorney and to act quickly to collect the records and preserve the evidence.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of police misconduct or abuse, it is important to act promptly and to communicate with an attorney with experience and expertise in police misconduct and constitutional rights claims. Contact us for a confidential consultation.