Police misconduct is becoming more common in South Carolina as well as other states, and you should know your rights that are provided in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. These rights are further protected in Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, which is now part of the United States Code.
Section 1983-An Explanation
Section 1983 was part of the Civil Rights Act that passed in 1871. It was designed to stop oppressive acts by the government as well as private groups and people. Section 1983 made it unlawful for someone, especially law enforcement agencies to deprive you of your constitutional rights.
Anyone in South Carolina, or any other state may be able to file a lawsuit against law enforcement, city and county government officials, and a city mayor. The most common claims that are filed against police officers are a malicious prosecution, false arrest, and use of excessive force and/or police brutality because these actions violate your constitutional rights.
Police Brutality, Excessive Force, Police Shootings and Section 1983
In South Carolina and other states, it’s not uncommon to hear about police brutality or excessive force being used by law enforcement personnel. The most common types of police brutality, include, but aren’t limited to:
- Excessive force. Police officers are authorized to use a reasonable amount of force if necessary in order to capture or restrain a suspect. However, a court may find that under the circumstances of your individual case, the force used was not reasonable.
- Lethal Force. If a police officer unreasonably shoots and kills you or a loved one, your Fourth Amendment Rights may have been violated.
- Racial Slurs. There isn’t any reason that a member of law enforcement should ever yell racial slurs at you. This verbal abuse could allow you or your loved one to recover damages under Section 1983
In police brutality, excessive force, and police shooting cases in South Carolina, and other states, certain constitutional violations are common. They include:
- Fourth Amendment. If a police officer touching you physically, including bullets and tasers, this could be considered a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment.
- Fifth Amendment. If a member of law enforcement refuses to read you or your loved one their Miranda rights and interrogate you, your Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated.
- Fourteenth Amendment. The use of racial slurs and/or verbal abuse based on you or your loved one’s race may be in violation of your right to equal protection.
Poor Prison Conditions
While the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say that prisons must be comfortable, it also doesn’t permit inhumane prison conditions.
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Prison officials in South Carolina and every other state, must provide
“adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care”. In addition, the prison must take any reasonable actions to guarantee a prisoner’s safety.
There are three requirements that must be met for there to be a violation of your 8th Amendment rights. You or your loved one must be able to show a link between the prison official’s action and the harm you or your loved one suffered.
- The condition(s) must pose a substantial risk of serious harm to you or your loved one.
- A prison official acted with “deliberate indifference” by knowingly disregarding the substantial risk of serious harm to you or your loved one’s health and/or safety;
- The prison officials disregard of the risk must have caused a serious injury or risk of future injury to you or your loved one.
Inmates Filing Section 1983 Complaints in South Carolina
As with every other state, in South Carolina, if you’re an inmate, you can’t file a Section 1983 claim unless:
- If you are a prisoner in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, you cannot file a claim under Section 1983 for prison conditions unless every administrative remedy that is available to you has been exhausted
- If you’re a prisoner looking to file a civil action, or appeal a judgment in a civil action without the prepayment of any fees, must submit a certified copy of your trust fund account for the 6-month period immediately before the filing of the complaint or Notice of Appeal.
If you do file a complaint, it must include: a copy of your inmate trust account for the previous 6 months, If you were in more than one facility during the 6 months prior to filing the complaint, you must submit a copy of your trust account from each of the facilities. Also, you must file a sworn statement that you’ve exhausted all administrative remedies.
Section 1983 and Police Dog Bites in South Carolina
Just as police departments may use force in the form of tasers and/or pepper spray, they may also use K-9’s if the use of force is considered to be reasonable under your individual circumstances. Section 1983 does offer you the possibility of bringing a case against the police officer, their bosses, and the police department in certain cases that involve excessive force.
If the force is unreasonable or excessive, the police officer may have been in violation of your 4th Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure.
Excessive Force in Police Dogs – Things to Consider
Every case is unique, and some of the excessive force considerations that may be evaluated by a judge or jury include:
- What crime were you suspected of committing? Was it minor like a traffic violation, or major like murder?
- Were you a danger to yourself and/or others?
- What kind of injuries you received from the police dog
- Did the police officer issue you a warning before releasing the dog?
- Did you surrender quickly or provoke the dog?
Deadly Force by a Police Dog
Police officers aren’t allowed to use deadly force if you’re fleeing from them and aren’t a danger or yourself and/or others. However, in South Carolina and other states, courts generally haven’t found that trained police dogs constitute deadly force, but haven’t closed the door on the fact that, in some circumstances, the use of a police dog could be considered deadly force.
Damages You May Be Able to Recover in a South Carolina Section 1983 Lawsuit
Depending on your individual case, you may be able to recover:
- Compensatory damages to reimburse you for such things as lost wages and medical bills.
- Punitive Damages to punish the person who wronged you
- Equitable relief. Equitable relief is when a judge orders someone to stop doing something or to do something.
Why You Need an Attorney for Your Section 1983 Case
Section 1983 lawsuits can be quite complex and complicated. it’s important to have a qualified South Carolina attorney like Chase Harbin to protect you or your loved one’s constitutional rights under Section 1983.
Chase Harbin is a Criminal Defense Lawyer who practices in Pickens and Greenville, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 17 years now. Chase Harbin believes in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.