Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Truth about Illegal Arrest and Clearing your Name

What really happens when you are illegally arrested or a victim of police misconduct:

Many people believe that when one is a victim of a constitutional violation the solution is simple: file a complaint with Internal Affairs and file a complaint with the city.  If the officer did something wrong then Internal Affairs will act on these unconstitutional behaviors and protect the citizens they vowed to look after.  Well, I am here to tell you that it is not that simple.   I often times read comments following news stories related to police misconduct and I realized that people don’t have a clue.  So here is what really happens…

If you fill out a police misconduct complaint, the police department/Internal Affairs does not have to investigate. They can ignore your complaint and not even respond to your concerns.  If Internal Affairs does decide to investigate, they can take up to a year to “investigate” and you are not entitled to a detailed finding when/if they do decide to “investigate.”  The only finding you will receive is either:  Sustained, Not Sustained, Exonerated, or Unfounded.

When you go to file your complaint, the officer taking your complaint will try to convince you to take the informal route as opposed to the formal route.  Here is the difference:  If you allow the department to investigate informally (which you should never do), there will be no record of your complaint in that officer’s file.  The department will promise you that they will handle the officer internally and make him take loads of extra training to prevent future incidents like the one you experienced from happening again.  If the officer does offend again, the next person do not have your complaint on record to help her in court or otherwise (Pitches Motion).  So, lets say that the officer lied in your case and filed a false police report; you decide to take the informal route and the department promises to handle it internally (never believe this).  Let's say that this officer lies on another person and that person is facing jail time.  This person does not have a record of your complaint to help her fight the injustice and the police department will not come to your rescue and say that others have made similar claims.  So please, always file a complaint formally. 

The next step is filing for a claim with the city:

When you file for a claim for constitutional violations, the city will automatically deny it even if you suffered a constitutional violation.  They will force you to fight them in court.  If they know that you are pro se, they will definitely not take your claim seriously.  In § 1983 (civil rights claims) the defendants also have to pay lawyer fees. This encourages the city to do the right thing and possibly be ethical.  If you are pro se, you are not entitled to lawyer fees, so the city lacks the incentive to “do the right thing” and be accountable for their actions.  They will force you to use all of your resources to fight them in court.
Let’s say that the police destroyed some of your property or caused you to lose your job.  There is nothing you can do.  It will take about a year to 2 years for your case to ever reach a jury.  In that span of time, you could have lost everything, especially if they soiled your name and you cannot find a job due to an illegal arrest or false accusations. 

Clearing your name:

The city plays a game…the city couldn’t care less if you are guilty or innocent.  All they care about is what they can prove or what type of story they can construct from the pieces they have gathered whether it be true or not.  They want convictions and pleas.  Let’s assume that you have been illegally arrested and the officer lied on you.  The district attorney will try to send you offers to get you to plea to false charges, because we all know that police officers have no reason to lie (yeah right) and juries will give their testimony more weight.  So the odds are against you.

After you decide not to take the pleas, the district attorney will dismiss the case because they never had a case to begin with.  Now, you would expect that the record of the illegal arrest will be erased without a problem but that is not the case.  You were never allowed to face your accuser and the DA is dismissing your case...You will have to file for a "finding of factual innocence" and the judge will read the complaint (lies and all) and deny your request to have your record cleared because he decided that you “could have been found guilty.”  You are never allowed to present any evidence during your "finding of factual innocence" hearing and you are stuck with a false record.  But don't worry, the city says that there is no harm because you were never found guilty.  Now here’s the rub, the constitution guarantees you a right to face your accusers.  If you are denied a jury trial because the DA dismissed charges, and you are not allowed to present evidence to clear your name, are you being denied that constitutional right?  I suppose so.   If the DA decided that they have no case, the record should be erased, period.   Unfortunately, that illegal arrest that you were never allowed to answer to will be used against you in the future and there is nothing you can do about it. 

Oh, by-the-way, there is no such thing as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.   

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