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Pennsylvania Police Brutality, Misconduct, and Excessive Force Lawyers

Serving Pittsburgh Police Misconduct, Brutality, and Excessive Force Victims:

40+ Years of Helping Clients Plan for Their Futures in Armstrong, Allegheny, Beaver, Washington, Butler, Westmoreland Counties 

If you are looking for a Pittsburgh Police Brutality Lawyer, then you should contact Herb & Winters Law today to schedule your consultation so that you can learn more about your families potential legal rights. 

Being a police officer is a dangerous job. Officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect our families and deserve our gratitude for that. But the police are not above the law. Having a badge and a gun does not give police officers the power to violate your constitutional rights. The Pittsburgh police misconduct lawyers at Herb & Winters Law are devoted to justice when government officials step over the line and violate the Constitution. 

Our law firm serves all areas of Pennsylvania for police brutality cases. When you are going up against law enforcement in a brutality case, you want an attorney by your side who will fight for your rights and guide you through the legal process every step of the way. The Pittsburgh Police Brutality Lawyers at Herb & Winters Law will help you pursue justice within the civil system. While just can feel like a long road, it starts by taking the first step and to be committed to doing what is right and necessary to get to that point. We recommend that you contact one of our Pittsburgh Police Brutality Attorneys today to schedule a consultation.

Civil Rights Protections from Police Abuse in Pennsylvania: 

Both Ohio and federal law protect against police misconduct. Perhaps the most important protection is the federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, § 1983 allows a lawsuit against anyone who “under color of” state law deprives another of the “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution” or federal statutes. In simple terms, § 1983 is the statute used to sue the police (or other local government officials) for violating a person’s constitutional rights.

Section 1983 applies only to violations of federally protected rights. It cannot be used to vindicate legal protections under state law. Pennsylvania, for instance, has separate protections for violation of rights conferred by the Pennsylvania Constitution and statutes.

Police misconduct might violate the U.S. Constitution in several different ways. Some of the more common claims include:

Unfortunately, proving a § 1983 case is extremely complex. To win requires navigating procedural traps and complicated standards of proof. Several technical legal questions must be considered before bringing this type of civil rights case, among them:

  • How do I prove a violation of my constitutional rights?
  • Who are the proper defendants in a police misconduct case?
  • When are individual police officers liable for civil rights violations?
  • Can the government be held responsible for constitutional violations by its employees?
  • What damages can plaintiffs recover in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cases?

Without a good lawyer, plaintiffs are likely to fall into one of the many pitfalls along the way. If your constitutional rights have been violated, you need to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania civil rights lawyer.

Civil Rights Protections from Police Abuse in Pennsylvania: 

Both Ohio and federal law protect against police misconduct. Perhaps the most important protection is the federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, § 1983 allows a lawsuit against anyone who “under color of” state law deprives another of the “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution” or federal statutes. In simple terms, § 1983 is the statute used to sue the police (or other local government officials) for violating a person’s constitutional rights.

How to Handle Police Misconduct in Georgia: 

If you encounter a police officer using excessive force, violating your rights, or engaging in other kinds of misconduct, you should take the following steps:

  • Immediately obtain medical care.
  • Document everything, particularly your injuries.
  • Take photos as evidence of your condition.
  • Identify any eyewitnesses and document their full names and contact information.
  • Call the Pittsburgh police misconduct lawyers at Herb & Winters Law right away.

Unfortunately, victims of police abuse or brutality are often incarcerated before they can take action against the misconduct. If you are arrested, you are entitled to speak to an attorney. You should let your lawyer know about the misconduct as soon as possible.

Call our firm today at (412) 533-4821 to learn how our Pittsburgh Police Brutality lawyers can support your goals. 

What does “under color of” state law mean?

To win a civil rights case under § 1983, plaintiffs must first identify a defendant who acted “under color of” state law. That means the defendant was what’s known as a “state actor”—someone whose authority comes from state law. In police misconduct and prison abuse cases, this standard is often easily met.

Harder questions can arise though. For instance, in some excessive force and police brutality cases, the police officer might have been off-duty at the time of the incident. These cases require more complex legal analysis. Ultimately, the question is whether the defendant’s position of power made the violation possible. Relevant factors may include whether the officer flashed a badge, identified himself as an officer, or arrested (or threatened to arrest) someone.

In some circumstances, private parties might also be “state actors” in civil rights lawsuits. One example might be a doctor providing medical care at a prison. Generally, depending upon the federal circuit, several different tests to resolve the question include but are not limited to: (1) the public function test; (2) the state compulsion test; (3) the symbiotic relationship or nexus test; and (4) the entwinement test. Though each is different, these tests generally consider what the defendant was doing at the time of the violation, or the defendant’s relationship to the government itself.

Although sometimes straightforward, proving a defendant acted “under color of” state law can be a very fact-intensive legal question. It often requires a skilled civil rights lawyer.

Should after the consultation, you and our law firm decide to enter into a fee agreement, our attorneys will help you understand what the next steps in the process will be. We will prepare you for what to expect each step of the way and how the litigation process will proceed. 

When are Pennsylvania police immune in excessive force and civil rights cases?

Another technical legal hurdle for victims of police misconduct (or other government civil rights violations) involves whether the government can even be sued at all.

Under a doctrine known as “qualified immunity,” police and other government officials cannot be sued in their personal capacities unless they violated a constitutional right, and the right was “clearly established” in the eyes of the law. At its core, this means the official be sued only if a reasonable person should have known that what they were doing was unconstitutional. A claim of qualified immunity is very common in § 1983 cases, and it can take an experienced Pennsylvania civil rights lawyer to defeat the defense.

Some government officials enjoy even greater immunity than that. For example, judges generally cannot be sued at all for their decisions. They have what is known as “absolute immunity.” So long as the judge had the legal power to render a decision—even if wrong or unfair—the judge cannot be sued for it. Acts outside the traditional judicial role are not immune though. With that in mind, a judge would not be immune for something like a physical assault.

Immunity issues also arise in prosecutor misconduct cases. Prosecutors are absolutely immune from suit based on their roles as advocates in criminal cases. There are some important exceptions however. Prosecutors do not have absolute immunity for things like conspiring to fabricate evidence before a grand jury is convened, giving police advice about whether probable cause exists to make an arrest, or making defamatory and false statements to the press.

When is the government liable for police misconduct?

An even more complicated question is when a local government is liable for violations by its employees. Without an experienced Ohio police misconduct attorney, plaintiffs are setting themselves up for failure.

Actions against municipal defendants under § 1983 were authorized by the Supreme Court in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). But local governments are not automatically liable every time their employees violate the Constitution. In fact, they are liable only when an official government “policy” or an informal government “custom” caused the violation. A policy or custom need not be a formal law passed by the government’s lawmakers though. It can instead be something established by “those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

Much of the litigation in this area revolves around what qualifies as an unofficial “custom.” According to Monell, an actionable custom is a practice that is “persistent and widespread” within the government. Pursuing municipal liability based on this theory is difficult. Showing a significant pattern of past violations is often necessary, and requires lawyers who know what they are doing.

One of the more common claims against municipalities in § 1983 case is for failure to train or supervise law enforcement. In City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989), the Supreme Court held that to prove government liability for inadequate training, a plaintiff must show the government acted with “deliberate indifference” to an obvious need for training.

Keep in mind, these standards apply only to local governments—cities, counties, and townships. They do not apply to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the federal government. A different set of laws applies to constitutional violations by those governments and their employees.

Damages in Pennsylvania Police Misconduct Cases?

Plaintiffs can obtain several different types of relief in § 1983 civil rights cases. The relief available includes injunctions against further unlawful action, declaratory judgments, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. Plaintiffs can also recover their attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

With respect to compensatory damages, a prevailing plaintiff can recover out-of-pocket expenses caused by the violation. A plaintiff can also recover for emotional harm, or “pain and suffering,” even without physical injury. That said, the most serious cases often involve significant physical harm or even death. In those cases, pain and suffering awards can be substantial, sometimes reaching six- or even seven-figures. 

Successful § 1983 plaintiffs can also recover punitive damages, designed to punish defendants for breaking the law, and to deter future violations. Although punitive damages cannot be recovered against government entities themselves, they can be recovered against individual government officials in their personal capacities.

Contact Pittsburgh Police Misconduct, Brutality, and Excessive Force Attorneys at Herb & Winters Law Today: 

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of police misconduct or excessive force, you may have a case against those responsible. 

Herb & Winters Law, an experienced Pittsburgh Police Misconduct Attorneys, will evaluate your potential case at no cost and help you determine whether you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries or losses. 

The police may be powerful, but with an experienced attorney on your side, so are you. Learn about your legal rights from an experienced police brutality attorney. 

To schedule a consultation, call us at (412) 533-4821 or reach out online. Our firm is standing by to offer personalized legal guidance.

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