The United States Constitution guarantees certain civil rights to individuals. The protection of these civil rights is necessary to a free and functioning democracy. A person’s civil rights can be violated by the government in numerous contexts, including in police interactions, or when facing discrimination or sexual harassment at school or work. Any person believing that their civil rights were violated in Wisconsin should seek the help of a Milwaukee civil rights lawyer.
Types of Civil Rights Cases in Wisconsin
Our office receives many calls from individuals who have suffered a violation of their constitutional rights. Some of the most common examples can include:
False Arrest — False arrest involves a victim being held in police custody without probable cause or without an arrest warrant being issued by an appropriate court of competent jurisdiction. In Bad Elk v. United States, 177 U.S. 529 (1900), the United States Supreme Court held that a person has the right to use force to resist an unlawful arrest. The use of force to resist an unlawful arrest usually requires that the arrest be illegal and the person resisting only use a reasonable amount of force.
Excessive or Unreasonable Force — The Fourth Amendment provides the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against any unreasonable searches and seizures. In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that an objective reasonableness standard must apply to a person’s claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force when making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure of their person. The court wrote that the Fourth Amendment inquiry is one of “objective reasonableness” under the circumstances of a case. It also stated that a test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment should examine the severity of an alleged crime, whether a suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the police officers or other parties, and whether the alleged offender is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
False Imprisonment — If a person is unlawfully detained and held by a police department or other party, it can be false imprisonment. Unlawful detainment involves a person being confined to a particular area and unable to leave. A detention will have to involve either actual force or a threat of the use of force, and harm does not necessarily have to be immediate bodily harm but may also involve other threats.
Malicious Prosecution — If a police officer wrongly deprives a person of their Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty, it can be considered malicious prosecution. Malicious prosecution customarily involves the institution of continuation of a criminal proceeding relating to an improper purpose without probable cause. A victim can sue for malicious prosecution when a defendant maliciously prosecutes a criminal case or uses a civil proceeding against the victim when the defendant knows they do not have a case, and a victim must obtain a favorable termination of the defendant’s malicious case before they can sue for malicious prosecution.
Failure to Intervene — The United States Department of Justice notes that law enforcement officers have a duty to other police officers who are using excessive force or are engaging in other kinds of prohibited conduct. In Yang v. Hardin, 37 F.3d 282, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that a defendant police officer’s omission constituted a civil rights violation because he had a duty to prevent another officer from infringing on the victim’s constitutional rights and had a realistic opportunity to intervene to prevent the harm from occurring.
Unlawful Search and Seizure — The Fourth Amendment generally protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government but does not prevent all searches and seizures. Whether a search will be considered reasonable depends on two interests, the intrusion on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights and legitimate government interests such as public safety. Multiple United States Supreme Court decisions have held that warrantless searches can be lawful when a police officer is given consent to search, a search is incident to a lawful arrest, there is probable cause to search and there are exigent circumstances, or items are in plain view.
Prisoner Abuse — The phrase prisoner abuse can encompass a wide variety of tactics, including physical abuse, use of excessive force to restrain or control inmates, sexual abuse or assault, psychological or emotional abuse, deprivation of food or water, refusal to provide medical or psychiatric care, failure to protect inmates from others, failure to prevent suicide, unconstitutional conditions of confinement, racial discrimination, religious discrimination, or retaliation or punishment for expressing or reporting inadequate prison facilities or treatment.
Discrimination — The Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights for the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) both specify that they enforce federal laws protecting people from discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, disability status, sex, religion, familial status, or loss of other constitutional rights. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was the landmark decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional, but the case actually combined five cases, and of those five, Gebhart v. Belton, 33 Del. Ch. 144, 87 A.2d 862 (Del. Ch. 1952), was the only one in which a state court found discrimination was unlawful.
Civil Rights Liability Issues
Many people assume they can only file lawsuits against the individuals responsible for violating their civil rights. In Wisconsin, a defendant officer’s employer is typically required to pay any judgment that we obtain on behalf of our clients. Additionally, in many cases, the municipality may also be directly liable for the violation of an individual’s civil rights..
The statute of limitations in civil rights cases may impact your ability to bring a claim. You will want to speak to a civil rights attorney as soon as possible to discuss what your legal options are and make sure that you take the appropriate action in time.
Speak with Our Milwaukee Civil Rights Lawyers
If you believe that you were the victim of a civil rights violation in Wisconsin, you should not hesitate to seek legal representation. Martin Law Office, S.C., is based in Oak Creek but serves clients throughout the state in civil rights cases.
Our firm has a wealth of experience handling civil rights cases and we can be aggressive when necessary to make sure that your rights are recognized. Call 414-856-4010 or contact us here to schedule a free consultation with our Milwaukee civil rights lawyer.
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