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What is police misconduct?

Californians who have been following the news probably have a sense that there has been a rash of episodes involving police offers and accusations of excessive force. Though we cannot speak on any of these individual cases, we can say that police misconduct does occur. Does that mean that all police officers who use force are breaking the law? Absolutely not. Our law enforcement officers have a difficult job that often requires split-second decisions and sound judgement. Though an outcome during the course of employment may not be as positive as one hopes, that does not mean that he or she should be criminally punished.

So what is the federal law surrounding this issue? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it is illegal for an individual to intentionally deprive another individual of any Constitutionally protected right while acting under the color of law. This means that if someone, acting as a federal, state, or local law enforcement officer takes action that strips away rights protected by law, then he or she could face arrest and criminal prosecution.

This law prohibits incidences of excessive force, intentional false arrests, sexual assault, and the will fabrication of evidence that causes another to be deprived of protected rights. It is also worth noting that committing these acts based on another's race, gender, age or any other characteristic is not a requirement for prosecution.

If convicted of such allegations, an individual could be subjected to severe penalties, including prison and fines. Also, he or she would likely lose his or her job, be barred from rejoining law enforcement, and may struggle to get back on his or her feet after satisfying all of the penalties handed down. In other words, this is a serious matter that requires a serious defense. Therefore, those accused of federal crimes, including police misconduct, may want to consult with a legal professional.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, "Addressing Police Misconduct," accessed on June 12, 2015

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