The number one reason that winnable
civil rights cases never see the light of day is because the victims simply do not
know their rights. The obvious genesis of every civil rights action for
false arrest is a criminal proceeding. Criminal defendants’ sole
focus during their criminal cases is attempting to establish their innocence
to the charges that have been levied against them. Understandably, fear
of incarceration creates “tunnel vision” towards the goal
of exoneration. When the vast majority of criminal defendants reach their
goal of exoneration, the single mindedness that helped them achieve that
goal often blinds them from seeking out monetary compensation for the
violations of their rights that they were forced to endure. Further, the
criminal defense attorneys who achieved the dismissal of their clients’
cases are often unversed in civil rights law and therefore are not in
the position to advise their clients of the possible monetary awards to
which they may be entitled.
Over the last two decades, I have been contacted by countless individuals
who have forfeited their right to seek monetary damages for the losses
they incurred as a result of being falsely arrested. Most had no idea
of the strict statutory time frames in which civil rights actions must be filed.
Does “No Indictment” Equal a Right to Monetary Compensation?
Under New York state law, without the defendant’s expressed waiver,
all felonies must go to the grand jury, and only after the defendant is indicted
can the prosecution continue. That is the very purpose of a grand jury
– to specifically determine whether there is sufficient evidence
to proceed with a criminal felony charge. When a grand jury finds sufficient
evidence, it is referred to in legal jargon as an issuance of a “True
Bill.” Conversely, when a grand jury, after reviewing the evidence
presented by the prosecution, determines that there is not enough evidence
to proceed with the prosecution of a felony, it is referred to as a “No
In order to indict, the grand jury must find that based upon the evidence
presented by the prosecutor, there is reasonable cause to believe that
the defendant committed the felony that has been presented. It is important
to note that the defendant, while permitted to testify at a grand jury,
is not permitted place his/her evidence before them. The grand jury is
an opportunity for the prosecution to present its case.
Finally, the burden of proof is not “beyond a reasonable doubt,”
but merely “reasonable or probable cause.” The reason this
is significant is that the sole issue before a judge or jury in civil
rights actions for false arrest is whether the police officer had “reasonable
cause” to effectuate the arrest. In the vast majority of cases,
a failure to indict will equal a viable civil rights case for false arrest.
Civil Rights Can Be Violated By Nearly Any Government Official
Most people are under the misconception that only police officers can be sued for
civil rights violations. In reality, the law permits victims to bring suit against any actor who
is acting “Under Color of State Law.” Depending on the circumstances,
this encompasses such individuals as building inspectors, assistant district
attorneys, correction officers, zoning officials, municipal clerks, and
elected officials. To a limited degree, the state, cities, counties, towns,
and villages themselves can also be named as defendants in civil rights actions.
This misunderstanding of the law is the driving force behind many victims
foregoing their constitutional right to bring a civil rights action and
further the possibility of securing significant monetary awards for the
damages they have incurred.
Wondering if You Have a Case? It Does Not Cost You Anything to Just Ask!
Our firm does not charge anything for case reviews. All it takes is picking
up the phone and making an appointment. While it is unethical for any
attorney to guarantee results on any matter, there is one thing that is
guaranteed. Knowing your rights places you in a far better position than
remaining in the dark as to whether your rights have been violated. As
such, seeking out a
qualified attorney to advise you is the best way of ascertaining whether you have
been the victim of a civil rights violation.
Damages in Civil Rights Cases
Violations of one’s liberty at the hands of the very people we pay
to protect us can reach far beyond physical damages that may have been
incurred. As an initial matter, successful plaintiffs in a civil rights
action for false arrest and malicious prosecution may be able to recover
every dollar paid to their criminal defense counsel. Further, wages lost
or expenditures which were necessitated by a wrongful arrest may also
be compensable. The trauma incurred by victims often results in mental
health issues, the damages for which the courts have often sustained upon
review of jury verdicts. Finally, as all substantiated civil rights violations
are intentional or reckless acts, the law permits juries to award punitive
damages. Punitive damages, as opposed to those which are meant to compensate
the victims, are levied to punish the perpetrators of civil rights violations
in hopes of deterring future and similarly unlawful conduct.
If you are seeking legal guidance in New York or New Jersey, feel free to
contact The Russell Friedman Law Group, LLP. Our attorneys would be happy to assist you.