Civil Rights Litigation Attorney in Philadelphia
Protect Your Civil Rights
Your Rights to Life, Liberty, and Due Process
In the United States, you have constitutional and civil rights to life, liberty and due process of law which are guaranteed and protected by both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. You do not forfeit or somehow lose these sacred rights during a police encounter. When your civil liberties have been violated by a law enforcement officer, you may be entitled to compensation for the harm caused to you.
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Mr. Privitera is the founder of The Privitera Law Firm LLC and concentrates his practice on the representation of catastrophically injured victims.
Mr. Privitera has been repeatedly recognized throughout the legal community for his skill and expertise, work ethic, preparation and dedication to his clients in personal injury and wrongful death matters. Mr. Privitera has earned the respect of the legal community, has extensive experience, a sterling reputation for handling significant personal injury and wrongful death cases and proven track record of success and outstanding results.
Types of Civil Rights Litigation Suits
In certain arrest situations, police officers are legally entitled to use reasonable force to subdue or control a suspect or protect themselves. However, excessive or unnecessary force or police brutality is never permitted to effectuate a lawful arrest. When an officer has used excessive force, the officer has not acted reasonably and has violated your civil liberties.
Policies on Police Use of Force
How much force may an officer lawfully use? There is no clear-cut answer. Only the minimal amount of force necessary to protect life or effect an arrest should be used against a suspect. Police officers typically are trained to operate under a use of force continuum, which permits an appropriate amount of force necessary to reduce and de-escalate the perceived threat to the officer based on the totality of circumstances. This means that the law considers the entire situation. Common sense factors pertaining to the officer or subject should be considered, such as the age, gender, size, strength, skill level and the number of police officers or offenders at the scene as well as “special circumstances,” such as an offender’s proximity to a weapon or firearm, injury or exhaustion, disability or other imminent danger. As a suspect’s actions escalate during the police encounter, then so do the force options available to the police officer, ranging from mere officer presence, verbal commands, physical control, less than lethal force and, finally, deadly force.
No matter what, when any force has been used on a citizen during the course of an arrest, police officers can’t just ignore the injuries. It is the policy of the Philadelphia police department to require its officer who use any force to prepare “use of force” memos and to render medical aid to the injured person or call for medical assistance as soon as it is safe to do so. If medical assistance or aid is denied a citizen injured by physical force, the officer has not only violated a departmental policy but may have subjected himself to the potential for civil liability, even if the initial force utilized was justified.
What Constitutes Excessive Force?
Excessive force is a difficult concept to define. Whether a police officer has crossed the line separating reasonable and excessive force depends on the facts of each specific case. Excessive force claims may be proven if the officer’s use of force in a given situation violated written departmental policies. If, for example, the officer utilized prohibited and dangerous chokeholds to effectuate an arrest and caused a suspect to suffer a suffocation injury or death, then there may be a viable case of based on police excessive force. Excessive force claims may also arise from other forms of unnecessary or disproportionate police violence, such as beatings, punching, stomping and/or kicking a suspect who is restrained or stopped resisting, or the unreasonable use of weapons, tasers, asps, batons, flashlights, police dogs or physical restraints. Often, when a police officer engages in use of force conduct that is deemed improper, it is because the department has inadequate policies and/or the officer has received poor use-of-force training.
Clearly, deadly force is a last resort and should only be used if the police officer is faced with a legitimate life and death decision. If an officer decides to use deadly force when something less than deadly force would have accomplished the same objective or when the objective facts show that the officer’s belief that an individual posed a grave and imminent danger was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances, then an excessive force claim is justified and should be pursued.
A false arrest is an unlawful restraint of an individual’s personal liberty or freedom of movement by someone who claims to have the legal right and authority to act.
False Arrest by Police Officers
There is no question that the police have arrest powers. But the authority to arrest is not without limitations. When a police officer decides to arrest you without enough probable cause or proper judicial authority, you may have a valid civil right claim for false arrest.
In some cases, the police may also have much more sinister motives for effectuating your arrest. Sometimes, the police will take you into custody and cause you to be wrongly charged with a crime, such as resisting arrest or aggravated assault on police, just to cover-up their own excessive force or other police misconduct committed against you, all in violation of your civil rights.
It’s Not Just Police Officers Who Can Falsely Arrest You
A false arrest may also be caused by private citizens. A false arrest may also occur when a person who is acting under some perceived authority, such as a private security guard or loss prevention employee, wrongly decides to detain you because of a suspected crime, such as shoplifting. Security guards and other private employees often illegally detain people and restrain their liberty or freedom without enough authority, basis or evidence of any wrongdoing.
A private company is typically held responsible for the conduct of its employees committed within the course and scope of his or her employment. But a company may also be held responsible for its own negligence if it failed to perform adequate background screening on a prospective employee or hired or retained a security or loss prevention employee who lacked prior law enforcement experience, adequate training, necessary physical attributes to properly perform the job or who had a prior criminal record that should have disqualified the prospective employee from employment in the first place.
If You’ve Been Falsely Arrested, You Have Suffered Harm
If you have been wrongly detained, arrested, imprisoned and/or charged with crimes you have not committed, not only have you been stripped of your freedom, but you may have suffered other damages and indignities, such as the loss of a job, disruptions in your family life, damage to your good reputation, embarrassment and severe mental and emotional trauma. Worse yet, in some instances, you may have been physically or sexually assaulted while in wrongful detention.
It is hard to imagine anything worse than an innocent person languishing in prison for a crime he or she did not commit. As each day passes, and the days turn into months and the months turn into years, the wrongly convicted person suffers the daily torment of the harsh and hard reality that he or she can never get back the time that has been lost or the freedom that has been deprived. When a person is wrongly convicted, it goes to the heart of our justice system.
How Does A Wrongful Conviction Occur?
How can such a miscarriage of justice ever happen in a civilized society? The justice system entrusts prosecutors and police to do their jobs with integrity and fidelity to the cause of justice. When wrongful convictions occur because of flagrant prosecutorial misconduct, suppressed exculpatory evidence, eyewitness manipulation, and misidentification, polluted forensic science, false or coerced police confessions and perjured testimony, the credibility, and reliability of the justice system has been undermined.
Fortunately, with advancements in DNA science and with the help of organizations, like the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, there have been a handful of wrongly convicted people who have been exonerated and released from prison after many years of incarceration.
The Trend to Outsource Healthcare to Private Companies
Unfortunately, the growing trend among many state and county prison systems, including Pennsylvania, has been to contract and outsource critical medical services to for-profit, private companies. While these private medical companies have recouped substantial profits, it has not necessarily translated into better medical services to inmates. Many state and counties have decided to outsource correctional health services to private medical companies, not to reduce their operational costs, but to reduce their own legal liability. Often times, private medical companies have contractual obligations to indemnify state and county-operated prison facilities for medical negligence and other medically-related misconduct.
In some instances, the private medical companies charged with inmate health care have failed to adequately staff the prison infirmary with qualified medical personnel or have failed to provide inmates with competent and timely medical services. For example, over the past five years, it has been reported that Corizon Health, the nation’s leader in correctional healthcare, has been sued more than 1,300 times for wrongful death lawsuits and for sexual misconduct committed by its doctors and nurses. In what was reportedly the largest prisoner civil rights settlement in California history, Corizon, and Alameda County paid out $8.3 million to the family of an inmate who died two days after being jailed on a warrant for failing to appear in court on charges of driving under the influence after being arrested for jaywalking.