Can You Sue the Police for Excessive Force?

Author: MatadorAdmin Posted on: . Filed in: Uncategorized.

Police brutality and the use of excessive force has always been a concern for private citizens and for lawmakers. As rising incidences plague our society, many have wondered if anything can be done to stop it. While it seems there may always be a few bad apples, the law seeks to protect ordinary citizens by giving them the power to bring their abusers to justice. While criminal complaints can be filed to launch an investigation, an individual may also be able to sue an abusive officer in civil court.

Seeking Damages in a Case of Excessive Force

While it is possible to sue the police, it may be a challenging process due to the unquantifiable nature of excessive force. Officers of the law are permitted to use reasonable force in securing an arrest — but who’s to say what is actually reasonable? Of course, it depends on each situation, but, in the end, this is a subjective opinion.

For individuals arrested and convicted, they often fear they have lost the right to sue at all, even if they can prove excessive force. They might not even discuss it with their criminal defense lawyer, feeling that it would just be a waste of time. To the contrary, even in cases where the individual resisted arrest, the person could still launch a civil suit against the arresting officer. This right is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, because excessive force is considered an unreasonable seizure.

The law describes excessive as “more force than is reasonably necessary,” but it is not easy to define what this really means in practice. Even cuts, abrasions, or broken bones aren’t proof of abuse in themselves, especially where the individual resisted arrest. Unless the victim can prove that he/she cooperated with the arrest, the officer may be justified in using force, even if that force results in injuries. It is sometimes possible to prove that an officer overstepped their bounds in applying force during the arrest, but more common are instances where the police officer continued to exert force long after it was justifiable. Once the subject is in custody, force should no longer be required.

Proving Excessive Force in Court

Today, proving excessive force is much more possible than in previous generations. In the past, private citizens had to rely on witnesses to prove their cases. These days, many officers are required to wear body cameras — and when these cameras fail, civilians on the street can easily film a questionable incident on a portable video recording device. Video recording apps now come standard on nearly every mobile device, so few people are left without the means of recording an incident.

Where a plaintiff can provide video evidence of an encounter, it becomes that much more difficult for an officer to claim he was wrongfully accused. Instead, the judge and jury can decide for themselves if the amount of force was necessary. Once video evidence has been authenticated by an expert, it becomes the most reliable record of any criminal act, whether committed by private citizens or police officers.


If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney such as the Criminal Defense Lawyer DC locals turn to. By speaking with an attorney experienced in handling criminal cases, you can ensure your rights will be safeguarded.

A special thanks to our authors at Brynn Law for their insight into personal injury cases.