Why are cases against law enforcement officials so difficult?

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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 16, 2021

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First, almost every convicted criminal claims his or her rights were violated. The courts and public have little sympathy for criminals, and generally their credibility is weak – particularly if they are repeat offenders – when contrasted with law enforcement officials. Where there are videotapes that document the violations – as there were in the Rodney King case — that would be a different story.

Second, law enforcement officials have qualified immunity (as discussed above). Thus the law enforcement official’s conduct must be willful or, at a minimum, reckless in order for someone to be able to sue. Being merely careless (or mildly unreasonable) conduct are not sufficient to allow you to sue.

Third, the official’s conduct must deprive you of a civil right. For example, an officer neglecting to read you your Miranda rights (your right to remain silent and right to counsel) cannot be sued unless you turn over evidence that is used against you by the law enforcement agency.

Fourth, in order to sue for use of excessive force, you must suffer a significant injury. Even if you suffer such an injury, if the law officer’s use of force was justifiable – and you can bet that she will claim it was – a lawsuit will not be successful.

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