Can I sue a law enforcement official for violating my civil rights?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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In typical situations, law enforcement officials are considered immune from lawsuits, at least on a qualified basis. This means that you typically cannot sue them unless they have flagrantly and obviously gone against the laws and behaved in a manner that a reasonable person would consider a clear violation of your rights. It’s also important to note that you must be able to prove the violation in court, and have solid evidence that a violation of your civil rights took place if you want to successfully sue a government official.

Filing Suit Against Law Enforcement

Rules and regulations differ by state and based on whether the person you wish to sue is a state or federal agent. The issue arises because law enforcement officials are often immune from suit when acting in an official capacity. For example, C.R.S. §29-5-111 makes government officials acting in any official capacity immune from suit unless their behavior was either outside the scope of employment, or a willful and wanton “tort”.  As a plaintiff trying to sue, the burden will be on you to prove that the situation falls within one of those exceptions to immunity.

Suing law enforcement officials is usually a complex matter; you will need qualified legal representation on your side in order to ensure your rights are protected and that all actions go forward properly. The odds of winning a lawsuit such as this are relatively slim, and in fact in most situations a lawsuit would have a better chance as a class action suit, since a private party going forward with this type of lawsuit is going to run into various roadblocks.

Don’t let all of this discourage you. If you’ve been mistreated by a law enforcement official, you do have rights. The key will be finding the right way to go about legally defending them. Contact a lawyer for assistance.

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