Archive for the ‘ Civil Rights ’ Category

What Constitutes Police Misconduct In California?

Posted on: April 24, 2017 by in Civil Rights
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Slowly, California law enforcement agencies are changing the way that police officers operate and the methods they use. In San Francisco, authorities have told law enforcement officers to use “minimal” rather than “reasonable” force when handling uncooperative suspects. In Los Angeles, police officials have ordered patrol officers to approach the homeless with “compassion and empathy.” Expectations are rising for the conduct of police officers in our state.

However, learning about any specific police misconduct that may still be taking place is extremely difficult under California law. A 1978 California statute blocks public access to police personnel records, and in 2006, the California Supreme Court upheld the statute (in the case Copley Press vs. Superior Court) by ruling that police personnel records must never be released by any government agency.

As a consequence of the 1978 law and the 2006 California Supreme Court ruling, Oakland City Council members can’t even obtain the details about a group of officers who were reportedly taking advantage of a young prostitute. In a time of both rising distrust and rising expectations of police officers, some reasonable reform of California’s law regarding police personnel records is becoming virtually imperative.

Although law enforcement officers generally have broad discretion to conduct their duties in California and the other forty-nine states, the U.S. Constitution restricts how far the police can go to enforce the law. If a police officer violates someone’s rights, that person has legal recourse.

A victim of police misconduct, police discrimination, or police brutality can file a discrimination or personal injury lawsuit and ask a California civil court for compensation and for justice. An experienced San Francisco civil rights attorney can help.

Suing a government agency or a government employee for discrimination or for personal injury is a bit more difficult than suing a private company or a private citizen. Before any lawsuit can be filed against any government employee or agency in the state of California, a number of criteria must be satisfied. In most cases, government agencies and government employees are protected from civil lawsuits by a legal principle called “sovereign immunity.”

WHAT IS SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?

The legal principle of sovereign immunity protects the government and its agents from legal action unless the government chooses to waive that immunity. In 1890, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution reaffirms that states possess sovereign immunity and are therefore generally immune from being sued without their consent. In several of its 20th-century rulings, the Supreme Court substantially strengthened the sovereign immunity of the states.

Yes, it seems unfair that the government can simply choose not to be sued, especially in cases where someone has suffered harm or injury. However, in the United States, sovereign immunity is not absolute, and those who have been genuinely injured by a government agency or a government employee usually do have legal recourse. A number of state and federal laws have been established to allow the victims of police misconduct to pursue discrimination and personal injury lawsuits and to receive monetary damages when those lawsuits prevail.

Federal law (specifically 42 U.S. Code, Section 1983) establishes the right to sue an individual who, while acting as a government employee, violates someone’s constitutional rights. Government employees may not violate anyone’s legal or constitutional rights, and the victims of such violations may sue for damages. The most common allegations brought against police officers in civil lawsuits are for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and the use of excessive or brutal force:

False Arrest: A false arrest happens when the police had no probable cause to take someone into custody. There must be enough facts and evidence for a reasonable person to conclude that an arrest was appropriate.

Malicious Prosecution: A malicious prosecution is unwarranted legal action by the government against an individual – action without probable cause.

Excessive Force: Excessive force happens when a police officer’s use of force is unreasonable, without regard to the officer’s intentions.

WHAT IS YOUR RECOURSE IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF POLICE MISCONDUCT?

Police officers and other law enforcement officials are expected to acknowledge and protect everyone’s civil, legal, and constitutional rights before and after an arrest and even after a criminal conviction. If you become a victim of police discrimination or brutality, a good civil rights lawyer will examine your case and listen to your concerns. If you file a lawsuit and the lawsuit prevails, you may be compensated for medical expenses, lost wages, and related damages.

In California, a lawsuit for police misconduct is a complex procedure. Precise rules must be followed, and non-negotiable deadlines must be met. For claims of false arrest and false imprisonment, victims must file a “notice of claim” within six months of the incident – or waive the right to sue.

A notice of claim merely notifies the government of your intention to pursue a lawsuit, and you cannot sue unless the notice of claim has been filed first. Don’t wait six months to file a notice of claim. If you become a victim of police misconduct, you should discuss the case at once with an experienced San Francisco civil rights attorney.

IF YOU SUE THE POLICE, HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CASE?

If you have been the victim of illegal conduct by the police – which could include racial profiling and discrimination, illegal search and seizure, excessive force, wrongful arrest, or police brutality – here’s how you can help your own case. Write down every detail of the incident that you can remember. If there were witnesses, try to obtain their names and contact information. Photographs of any injuries or property damage are helpful, and if you receive medical treatment as a result of a police misconduct incident, get the receipts and medical records to prove it and to show precisely how you were injured.

The overwhelming majority of California’s law enforcement officers conduct themselves appropriately, but in any police agency – even in the San Francisco Police Department – the bad officers work shoulder-to-shoulder with the good ones. The current changes that are happening to policing in California – the calls for “compassion” and “empathy” – are long overdue. The history of police misconduct and brutality – in California and across the United States – is a dreadful history, and we need to put it behind us – permanently.

What Are The Rights Of Inmates In California?

Posted on: March 16, 2017 by in Civil Rights
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Charles Manson. Jeffrey Dahmer. Ted Bundy. Yes, even the most monstrous criminals in our nation have basic legal rights that are safeguarded by the Constitution. If you are facing criminal charges that could lead to incarceration, you need to know your legal rights. If you have a family member or friend behind bars, you should know his or her rights too. While this is a general introduction to the rights of convicted inmates, if you or someone you love is behind bars and needs legal assistance, an experienced San Francisco civil rights attorney can provide the legal advice you’ll need regarding any specific violation of an inmate’s rights.

What are the rights of those who are held in custody? Pre-trial detainees – that is, those who have been charged with a crime, cannot afford bail, and are awaiting trial – have the legal right to be held in “humane” facilities. They must be fed adequately, have access to adequate personal facilities and medical care, and not exposed to extreme temperatures. Pre-trial detainees cannot be treated like convicts while they are merely awaiting trial.

Under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, convicted inmates must be protected from conditions that constitute “cruel and unusual” punishments. Back in 1848, the Supreme Court defined “cruel and unusual” punishments to include “drawing and quartering, embowelling alive, beheading, public dissecting, and burning alive,” among other things.

Today, the definition of a cruel and unusual punishment is generally considered to be any punishment that is injurious or that violates a person’s basic human dignity. In 1995, for example, a federal court ruled that holding inmates in a facility that lacks toilets is cruel and unusual punishment.

PRECISELY WHAT RIGHTS ARE RETAINED BY INMATES?

Inmates have the right to be free from victimization by sex crimes including sexual harassment. Inmates have the right to be heard regarding prison conditions, and they have the right to have those complaints considered by the courts. A federal court in Iowa, for example, awarded one inmate more than $7,000 in damages after he was put in solitary confinement for a year – for complaining about prison conditions.

Disabled prisoners are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure their equal access to prison programs and facilities. Inmates have the right to adequate medical care, and those who need mental health treatment are entitled to that care as well. Violating these rights can make prison authorities liable for damages. If your rights – or the rights of someone you love – have been violated in a California jail or prison, discuss the situation with an experienced San Francisco civil rights attorney. You may have grounds for a lawsuit, and in some cases, you may even be awarded compensation.

Due process, conviction, and incarceration have the effect of legally taking some of a person’s rights. Inmates keep only the rights that are consistent with their inmate status and that do not obstruct the maintenance of a prison’s order and security. Thus, prison authorities may open an inmate’s mail to ensure the security of the prisoner and prison, but they may not censor letters that are offensive, rude, or highly opinionated. Sending and receiving letters is a prisoner’s right, but convicts do not have the right to face-to-face meetings with journalists. Journalists must request permission to interview any prisoner, and that permission is frequently denied.

Inmates have no right to privacy in their prison cells. Those cells can be randomly searched at any time for drugs, weapons, or other contraband. Inmates who are targeted for disciplinary investigations or proceedings must receive advance written notice of the alleged violation and pending investigation or proceeding. The notice should outline the facts, charges, and evidence against the inmate. Inmates are seldom permitted to confront or examine their accusers in such proceedings, and inmates are not entitled to legal counsel in such proceedings.

WHAT IS THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT?

In response to a rise in inmate litigation in the federal courts, Congress in 1996 passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which has limited inmate access to the federal courts. The PLRA restricts the discretion of federal courts in inmate litigations. Under the PLRA, a court “shall not grant or approve any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.”

The PLRA has five main provisions:

  • Inmates must pay their own filing fees when they take complaints to court.
  • Inmates must exhaust a prison’s own grievance process and procedures before a lawsuit can be filed in a federal court.
  • Courts may dismiss any inmate’s lawsuit found to be frivolous, malicious, or inaccurate. When a court dismisses a lawsuit on these grounds, the inmate may have a “strike” issued, and if a prisoner receives three strikes, he or she cannot file a subsequent lawsuit unless the entire filing fee is paid up front. Courts may waive the three-strike rule if there is evidence that an inmate is at risk of immediate physical harm.
  • Inmates may not file a claim for mental or emotional injury unless they have sustained a physical injury and they can prove it.
  • If a prisoner lawsuit is filed simply for harassment purposes or contains false allegations that an inmate knows to be false, the inmate can lose credit time for good behavior.

WHEN RIGHTS ARE VIOLATED, WHAT RECOURSE DO INMATES HAVE?

A California inmate whose rights have been genuinely violated should contact – or have a loved one contact – an experienced San Francisco civil rights attorney. A good civil rights lawyer can review the details of an inmate’s complaint and explain the inmate’s rights, options, and prospects for prevailing in court. However, inmates and their loved ones should understand that California courts generally defer to prison officials regarding prisoners’ rights.

Provided that the conditions of an inmate’s incarceration are consistent with the inmate’s sentence and do not otherwise violate the Constitution, judges generally allow prison officials broad discretion in the details of managing a prison and handling the inmates. However, if the courts in California find that prison officials have violated the Constitution or have otherwise violated a prisoner’s basic rights – particularly the right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment – the court will act on the inmate’s behalf and grant relief.

If you feel that you or a loved one’s right were violated, contact the Civil Rights attorneys of Geonetta & Frucht, LLP. We will work tirelessly to protect your rights and get you the possible outcome.