I get a lot of calls asking “How can I sue the police in Arkansas or Oklahoma?” Simple, through what they call a “1983 Action.”
Fundamental Principles of § 1983 Actions
- 1983 Actions are arguably the most important civil cases a plaintiff can bring. These actions commence when a private party alleges that the government has violated his or her civil rights. At the heart of these cases is government accountability: the plaintiff in a § 1983 action argues that their constitutional rights have been violated by someone acting under color of the law. While the plaintiff may never recover monetarily, (there are various defenses the government may raise that could possibly, circumvent a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor) simply filing such an action may cause internal investigations and shine a light into a particular agency’s practices and procedures, potentially positively changing the way they approach and interact with other members of the public.
To establish a case under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that their civil rights were violated by the actions of a person performing under the color of law, and that these actions resulted from enforcement of a governmental policy or custom. Each potential defendant may be held accountable for only their role in the violation. This means, while a governmental employer may not be responsible for the actions of their employee, a supervisor may still be held liable for failure to supervise or train properly. Finally, proof of whether the potential defendant acted intentionally is dependent upon the type of rights allegedly violated and determined on a case-by-case basis.
An increasingly more popular example of a potential § 1983 action involves unreasonable police action. To illustrate, say a police officer pulls over a vehicle for seemingly no reason. They then administer a fruitless field sobriety test. Say this officer proceeds to search the vehicle at the objection of the driver, and discovers a gun, or contraband, and arrests the driver. Since this police officer violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution with an unreasonable search and seizure, this criminal case has a chance to be dismissed. At that point, the driver is free to go with no criminal record; however, the driver has likely had to spend several thousand dollars in attorneys fees and has lost time from work showing to court hearings. The driver has been potentially traumatized or brutalized while in police care. To no avail?
That is where a § 1983 action comes in. The driver may sue the police officer who instigated the unlawful stop. The driver may also potentially sue the chief of police or sheriff, and the city or county involved for their failure to guide and train this officer appropriately. Whether or not the plaintiff prevails in a monetary award against the police officer and everyone else involved, it is almost guaranteed that the police officer in question will think twice before committing such a violation of civil liberties. Further, his entire department likely investigated and addressed this issue so as not to repeat this incident again. These actions can be successful even if nothing illegal was found during the search!
Some other examples of civil rights violations include:
First Amendment — The First Amendment protects your freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. If you have been censored by someone working for the government, if you have been punished for saying something online, expressing a political view point, protesting, or cussing at a police officer.
Second Amendment — You have a right to keep and bear arms. If the government has violated your right to carry a gun, stopped you just because you were carrying a gun and demanded identification, demanded to inspect your weapon, etc. You can sue them even if no criminal charges were filed and make them pay handsomely for their rabid hatred of our natural right to self defense.
Fourth Amendment — This protects us against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” If you have been stopped for no valid reason, the police searched your vehicle, body, or house illegally, then your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. If you can prove that this right has been violated, the police will have to pay for any damages incurred (time spent in jail, attorney’s fees defending a criminal case, bond/bail, and the attorney’s fees from suing them for violating those rights).
Fifth Amendment — “No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” For example, if you are detained by the police and invoke your 5th amendment right to remain silent when under police questioning, and yet the police persist in questioning you, then you can potentially keep out the information they forced out of you, and then sue the police for violating your rights.
Sixth Amendment – If you ask for an attorney and the police keep questioning you, and then they use those statements against you to build a criminal case, then you could potentially have a 6th amendment claim against the police. You don’t have to have an attorney when you ask for one, you just have to ask for an attorney.
Fourteenth Amendment — The Equal Protection Clause requires Arkansas to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. For example, when I successfully sued the state because they were treating the 3rd party candidates differently than the Republicans and Democrats.
If you feel like the police have violated your civil rights in Arkansas or Oklahoma, please give us a call at 479-782-1125 to see if we can make those who hate our Founding Fathers, the United States, and the Constitution pay for their wrongs.