Civil Rights FAQ
What is a civil rights case?
A person’s civil rights are those which are guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, the press, freedom from discrimination, etc. While many laws are created by local governments or judges, civil rights law is derived from the U.S. Constitution and is designed to protect the rights of people as defined under the U.S. Constitution.
What are the most common civil rights cases?
The most common kind of civil rights cases concern allegations of police misconduct and police brutality.
Police officers, just like any human being, make mistakes. Some of their errors are very serious and abusive, others are just careless. Police Misconduct cases are most commonly concerned with issues of excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.
A police officer acts with excessive force when he or she uses an unnecessary level of force against a civilian. Police officers are certainly permitted to use force, and, in some situations, deadly force. However, there are times when officers misuse their authority and injure someone without a justified reason. One infamous example of this is the case of Rodney King vs. LAPD, where police officers pulled over an unarmed man, tasered him, and beat him over 50 times with their batons. Another police misconduct case personally litigated by Mr. Kannin and Kannin Law Firm can be viewed under the case summaries on this site (Smith vs. City of Seattle).
Generally speaking, an arrest is defined as any type of situation that you are involved in with an officer where you are not free to leave. If you are under arrest, the next question is why are you being arrested? If the officer does not have a lawful reason to arrest you, then you may have a false arrest claim. Take the following example: A police officer sees a young man standing on a street corner, alone, minding his own business. The officer tells him that he must submit to a pat-down search. The man refuses and the officer tells him that he must comply. The man again says no and the officer forces him into the squad car and takes him down to the station. After searching the man at the station and checking his background, the officer releases him. The young man has a valid false arrest claim. He was arrested for no valid reason and brought to the station.
Both federal and state law claims could be pursued and won, assuming that these facts could be proven at trial.
A malicious prosecution claim is similar to a false arrest claim. In this type of case, the officer arrests an individual for no valid reason and then initiates a criminal complaint against the innocent person. Typical cases involve the police officer accusing an individual of assaulting a police officer. Here, an officer strikes a civilian for no good reason or by mistake. The civilian blocks the strike and hits back. The officer then tackles the civilian, arrests him and charges him with striking the officer – known as aggravated or felony assault. After the criminal case is over (and hopefully won) the innocent civilian may lodge a civil rights case against the officer for excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Why are civil rights cases so difficult?
Many people don’t understand what it takes to win a civil rights case. These are hard cases to win.
Not only is the law complex, but unlike other civil cases, there is an extended notification and waiting period before you can file your lawsuit. You are required to formally notify the government officer, agent or organization of your injury or the harm they caused you and wait for a period of at least sixty days for the government officer, agent, or organization to respond to or settle your claim. Only after doing so may you file a lawsuit against the offending person or organization. In other civil cases there is no notification requirement or waiting period.
Second, what actually happened may be difficult to prove in court. For example, you may find it hard to prove a case of police brutality unless an independent witness observed an officer’s use of unnecessary force against a civilian. Frequently, there are no witnesses and the case must be proven through other means.
The most important thing to do when confronted with a situation involving police misconduct is to CONSULT A LAWYER. Don’t leave it to your own decision-making process to determine whether you would be able to win a case in court. The law as well as the manner by which your case can be proven is complicated.
What are your fees?
There is never a fee for your initial consultation with Kannin Law Firm. Call us at 206.574.0202 or fill out our online contact form (on the right) to set up an appointment to discuss your case.
If Kannin Law Firm decides to take your civil rights case, we usually do not charge a fee unless we recover money for you. This is called a contingency fee agreement.
However, we may ask for a retainer fee to investigate your case more fully in order to determine the probability of success in a court of law and to file your claim with the appropriate government office to satisfy the sixty day waiting period. This fee is non-refundable, regardless of whether or not we ultimately take your case.
This page and other pages herein may refer to certain legal concepts or principles. These concepts or principles are primarily based upon what we believe to be the law in the State of Washington. Laws of other states may differ. The law in Washington and other states is constantly changing. Therefore, for these and other reasons the information and opinions expressed in these pages are not intended and should not be taken as legal opinions to be relied upon in any way by those who read them.
To come to a legal conclusion relative to anything contained herein could seriously prejudice the rights of the reader. If the reader has a legal problem relative to any of the matters discussed herein, he or she may seek an interview with this office or the advice of any other attorney either directly or through their local bar association or community legal services.