What Constitutes Police Brutality?
Insight from our Philadelphia Police Brutality Attorney
Police officers must respect the civil rights of the citizens they are
meant to protect. When an officer engages in the use of excessive force
and causes serious injury or financial harm, the victim may be able to
recover compensation by filing a lawsuit. But what is police brutality?
When does an officer's behavior cross over the line from professional
duty to needless and unwarranted violence, or other civil rights violations?
We Can Provide Answers
At Krasner & Long, our police brutality lawyers have years of experience
litigating a wide range of crimes and civil rights abuses committed by
officers of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), ranging from officers
supplying false information in order to obtain search warrants, to cases
of first degree murder.
In this informational guide, we'll cover some of the basics when it
comes to search and arrest procedures, the Miranda Warning, the use of
excessive force, false arrests and wrongful imprisonment, and the existence
of probable cause. If you think your legal rights were violated, our attorneys
may be able to help you file a police misconduct claim.
To arrange for a private case evaluation, call Krasner & Long today at
What is Probable Cause?
The existence of probable cause serves as the cornerstone of the entire
search and arrest procedure. Police officers cannot make arrests at their
discretion based on a "hunch" or a "bad feeling."
In order to have legal justification for obtaining a warrant, conducting
a search, or placing a person under arrest, officers must establish the
existence of probable cause.
The probable cause requirement is supplied by the Fourth Amendment, which
provides the following:
- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported
by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched,
and the persons or things to be searched.
- However, probable cause can come in different forms depending on the situation.
For example, an officer may claim probable cause based on a physical observation
(such as the "plain view" or "plain smell" of marijuana,
indicating possible drug crimes, or illegal weapons possession), information
provided by a witness or informant, the presence of circumstantial evidence,
or other factors.
- Generally speaking, probable cause means that an officer has sufficient
information and/or physical evidence to believe that the suspect is committing
a crime, from a reasonable person's point of view.
What You Need to Know
It's also very important for motorists to be aware of the fact that
officers in Pennsylvania typically do not need a warrant to conduct a
vehicle search. Giving written or even verbal consent to a search is sufficient
- and because officers are not obligated to inform motorists of their
right to deny consent, all too many drivers fall into the trap of granting
consent to a search which they could otherwise deny. Officers may also
search a vehicle without a warrant where they have probable cause to believe
a search would uncover evidence of a crime, and under other circumstances
as well. Motorists should also be aware that minor traffic violations,
such as having a broken taillight, often do not constitute probable cause
to search the vehicle.
When Does Reasonable Force Become Excessive Force?
Police officers are often confronted with life-or-death situations where
they need to make instant decisions. All the same, occupational dangers
do not grant officers a "free pass" to use excessive force.
On the contrary, officers are obligated to use only the degree of force
which is considered "reasonable" and proportional to the situation
at hand. Generally speaking, officers must not exceed the amount of force
which is necessary to protect their own safety and the safety of other
people in the vicinity.
However, as there is no single, clear-cut definition for what constitutes
"reasonable force," each incident must be reviewed on a case-by-case
basis. This fact underscores the importance of having skilled and aggressive
legal representation on your side during legal proceedings.
How Is it Generally Determined?
While the threshold for "excessive" versus "reasonable"
force must be closely scrutinized on a case-by-case basis, there are clear
definitions when it comes to the application of lethal or deadly force.
In the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that lethal force "may not be used unless necessary to prevent the
escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect
poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer
This ruling placed significant restrictions on the "Fleeing Felon
Rule" previously used as the standard, which held that officers could
use deadly force against any felon who was fleeing from police, "whether
actually or presumably dangerous."
Additionally, some forms of physical conduct are clearly and strictly prohibited.
For example, the Philadelphia Police Department, like many other departments
throughout the United States, has banned the use of neck restraints, including
"chokehold" and "sleeper hold" maneuvers.
These types of strangulation maneuvers, which are sometimes referred to
as carotid restraints or lateral vascular neck restraints, are designed
to restrict blood and oxygen supply, potentially rendering the victim
unconscious or even causing wrongful death.
Excessive force can involve physical beatings with officers' hands
and feet, and/or may involve the use of weapons such as batons and taser
guns (sometimes spelled TASER guns). If you suffered a serious personal
injury after being kicked, beaten, stomped, choked, or otherwise abused
by the PPD, the attorneys of Krasner & Long may be able to help you
pursue maximum compensation to cover your medical bills, lost wages resulting
from hospital recovery, and other losses and expenses.
When Do Police Officers Have to Read Miranda Rights?
Most U.S. residents are familiar with the Miranda Warning, largely thanks
to its prevalence in crime dramas and television shows.
The famous Miranda Warning, also called Miranda Rights, reads as follows:
You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You
have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present
during any questioning.
While many people are familiar with the words, there tends to be some confusion
when it comes to understanding the scenarios where officers must actually
read the Miranda Warning - and the effects if they fail to do so. A skilled
attorney is able to sort through these issues to most effectively protect
your constitutional rights.
An officer must read a defendant his Miranda Rights prior to questioning
the defendant if the officer has placed the defendant into custody and
the questioning is reasonably likely to produce incriminating evidence
against the defendant. Being placed into custody typically means that
you are not free to go of your own volition, and is not necessarily the
same as being placed under arrest, although there are special circumstances
where other rules apply.
Are There Exceptions?
While there are some exceptions to this rule, generally speaking statements
obtained through a Miranda violation are not considered permissible for
use as trial evidence.
If you have not been placed into custody - meaning you are not under arrest
and are free to leave at will - then the officer you are interacting with
does not have to read you the Miranda Warning. In this situation, where
custody is not a factor, anything you say can be used against you as evidence
at trial - even without the Warning having been read to you.
In fact, officers have been known to delay making an arrest or placing
a suspect into custody expressly for the purpose of avoiding the Miranda
Warning, at which point the suspect may make an incriminating statement
after being lulled into a false sense of security.
today to share the details of your case with our Philadelphia civil litigation lawyers.
False Arrests & Wrongful Imprisonment
The concept of false arrest or unlawful arrest - which can also apply to
individuals who are not police officers, and may overlap with the crime
of kidnapping - means that an officer acted completely outside the scope
of his or her legal authority by making an arrest which was not supported
by probable cause or an appropriate search warrant.
In general terms, false arrest involves wrongfully holding a person in
custody and restraining their normal freedoms against their will. The
false arrest process, and/or the wrongful imprisonment which may follow,
can result in serious physical injury, emotional trauma, and/or financial
harm to the victim.
For example, the victim may be physically assaulted or subdued with excessive
force as the arrest is being made, may be attacked by other inmates while
wrongfully imprisoned, and/or may lose income or other earnings due to
missing time from work. These financial losses can be further compounded
by the medical care required to treat any injuries the victim sustains
while being arrested or imprisoned.
In addition to constituting a civil rights violation, false imprisonment
is also considered to a serious crime under Pennsylvania law. A person
commits this offense when he or she "knowingly restrains another
unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with his [or her] liberty."
If you feel that your civil rights were violated by a PPD officer, the
police brutality attorneys of Krasner & Long may be able to help.
As criminal defense attorneys serving Philadelphia, we have a unique understanding
of the rules and laws pertaining to arrests, evidence, custody and imprisonment,
criminal prosecution, and police procedures.
To begin discussing your experience and exploring some of your legal options
in a completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices right away at