New York City Law Blog

Your Civil Rights Are Precious

Broad powers don’t mean police can violate your rights

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  • Law posted:Uncategorized
  • Date:April 07, 2018

The adage goes that you can’t fight city hall. Despite those words, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to fight. Rather, the presumption behind the statement is that the legal system is structured in such a way that those who try to battle city hall are doomed to fail.

That is not necessarily the case, however. It all depends on the circumstances of the situation. It is possible to wage a successful challenge against the city to protect your civil rights. And while the New York Police Department might seem like a self-protected stronghold, the same holds true for that organization as well. In fact, sometimes the circumstances demand action.

It is true that the courts tend to grant officers broad latitude in fulfilling their investigative and law enforcement roles. But the immunity from accountability is qualified. Many forms of conduct are illegal. But abuses happen, often because the average person isn’t aware of his or her rights to begin with. If you experience police behavior that you question, consult with a skilled attorney to get clarity about what your options may be.

Criteria for suing for false arrest

One egregious violation of civil rights that anyone can fall victim to is false arrest or imprisonment by the police. Under federal law, any government agent who deprives a person of “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,” can be held liable and redress can be sought.

The Fourth Amendment is what frames the conditions under which a claim of false arrest is possible. This is the prohibition against unreasonable search or seizure. For example, if you are clearly engaged in lawful behavior near a criminal act, officers don’t have the right to arrest you. Also, if police don’t have adequate probable cause to support your detention, false arrest might be claimed.

In fact, any non-consensual restriction of a person’s freedom of movement, when no legal justification exists, may constitute liability for false imprisonment.

Such challenges do come with significant legal obstacles. But they are not insurmountable for attorneys with experience.

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