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United States Code Section 1983 — Police Misconduct and Excessive Use of Force.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of any State . . . subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . .

The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails.

To succeed in a claim of a § 1983 violation, the burden is upon you (the plaintiff) to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the defendant performed an act or acts which operated to deprive you of one or more of your Federal Constitutional rights; (2) the defendant acted under color of law; and (3) the defendant’s acts were the legal cause of the damages sustained by the plaintiff. It is not necessary for a plaintiff to prove a defendant had the specific intent to deprive you of your constitutional rights.

Excessive Force

The use of force is contrary to the Fourth Amendment if it is excessive under objective standards of reasonableness. The use of force by officers is not reasonable under the Fourth Amendment if there is no need for force.

In determining whether the force used was reasonable, a court must balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.

It is a question of fact as to what force a reasonable officer would have used, not the state of mind of the defendant himself. Evil intentions will not establish a constitutional violation if the force used was objectively reasonable, nor will good faith protect an officer who used unreasonable force. The physical force must be objectively reasonable from the perspective of a reasonable police officer on the scene, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

A claim of excessive force must be analyzed independently from a claim of false arrest. There are clearly established rules relating to excessive force claims. The first factor in determining whether the force used was excessive is the severity of the force applied. The second factor, and the most important, is the need for the force. The amount of force used is ‘permissible only when a strong government interest compels the employment of such force.’ Factors to be considered in determining the need for the force include ‘the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.’ Finally, a court must balance the force used against the need in order to determine whether the force used was greater than is reasonable under the circumstances. This determination requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case and a careful balancing of an individual’s liberty with the government’s interest in the application of force.

Courts have found excessive force in many varied circumstances.