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Police misconduct basics: What you should know

Police have the power and ability to enforce the law. However, they cannot use excessive force when carrying out their duties. Under the United States Constitution, police in New York and elsewhere are limited in their ability to exert force depending on the situation and context.

Here are some important points to keep in mind pertaining to the powers and limitations of police under the Constitution:

  • Police can question citizens, but they must respect their constitutional rights at all times, which includes the right to remain silent.
  • Officers can only make an arrest if they have a probable cause to do so.
  • If an officer witnesses someone committing a misdemeanor or felony, the officer can arrest the individual without a warrant.
  • Victims of police misconduct can prove that a false arrest occurred by showing officers did not have probable cause to justify the arrest.
  • To prove excessive force, victims must show that an officer did not have a justifiable reason for exerting such force.
  • When patterns of arrest show signs of discrimination, victims may be able to use this evidence to show that their arrest and/or mistreatment by police was the result of racist and/or discriminatory practices.
  • In addition to discrimination against specific racial minorities, other groups such as homosexuals, homeless people and individuals of a specific nationality may find themselves being unfairly targeted by police.

Victims of police misconduct in New York City can assert their constitutional rights in federal court. If injured by the police misconduct, victims may be able to pursue financial restitution for the costs and damages associated with their injuries.

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