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Posted on March 19, 2020 in Criminal Defense

Things Cops Do That Are Illegal: What a Police Officer Can and Cannot Do

Police misconduct is more common than many people want to admit. Our criminal defense lawyers in Phoenix know this because we handle a wide variety of criminal cases. We value and respect police officers and law enforcement agencies, but we also know that some law enforcement officers bend the rules or step outside of the boundaries of the law.

The public needs to know that there are things that police officers are not permitted to do. Police officers are subject to the same laws as other citizens. When a law enforcement officer commits a crime or violates a person’s legal rights, there are consequences.

How Common is Police Misconduct?

Police misconduct includes a variety of actions. It includes crimes committed by police officers, but it also includes violating a person’s legal rights during an investigation, an arrest, or while in custody.

A national study by the Bowling Green State University revealed that approximately three police officers are arrested each day. The study covered a period from 2005 through 2011. About forty percent of the crimes were committed while the officers were on-duty.

Crimes committed by police officers involved violent crimes, sex-related crimes, profit-motivated crimes, and drug crimes. There was evidence that officers used their authority and job to commit some crimes. However, police officers are also known for violating the Constitutional rights of individuals.

Investigations Under the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute

Individuals being investigated by law enforcement agencies or arrested for an alleged crime have various Constitutional rights. These Constitutional rights continue throughout the case. Police officers who violate a person’s Constitutional rights can be held responsible for their actions and wrongdoing.

The Department of Justice investigates and prosecutes violations of Constitutional rights by law enforcement officers. 18 U.S.C. §242 provides that a police officer who deprives a person of their protected rights, immunities, and privileges under the Constitution or the laws of the United States is guilty of a crime.

Many forms of police misconduct can be prosecuted under the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute. Examples of law enforcement misconduct that is prosecuted under this statute include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical assault
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Failure to intervene
  • False arrest
  • Intentional lack of concern for a serious medical need or risk of harm to a person in custody
  • Theft
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Fabricating evidence
  • Witness tampering

The above cases are not the only examples of police misconduct. In many cases, the misconduct is more subtle. The victim of police misconduct may not realize that the police officer did something wrong or committed a crime.

Know Your Legal Rights — Interacting with Law Enforcement Officers

Knowing your rights can help protect you from officer misconduct. For instance, knowing that you have the right to remain silent or the right to consult with a criminal defense lawyer can keep you from saying something incriminating.

Five things you need to know are:

1.  Police officers cannot use excessive force.

Excessive force is a common allegation against law enforcement officers. A police officer may use reasonable force to subdue a suspect or protect the officer or other individuals.

Defining “excessive” can be difficult. In many cases, excessive force results in injuries. In some cases, excessive force can result in the death of an individual.

2.  A police officer can ask you to exit the vehicle.

A police officer has the right to ask you and your passengers to exit the vehicle during a traffic stop. However, the police officer must have a reason for a traffic stop. An officer cannot initiate a traffic stop just because he felt like it or had a hunch.

However, the traffic stop is not the time to argue this point. You can ask politely and respectfully why you were pulled over. The police officer may not answer your question, but it is unwise to antagonize an officer or refuse to follow instructions.

3.  Searches require a search warrant or probable cause.

If a police officer wants to search you, your vehicle, or your home, the officer must have probable cause or a search warrant.  Probable cause is a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed or is being committed.

4.  Cops can lie to you.

Many people have the mistaken assumption that it is a crime for a police officer to lie to you. It is not. A police officer can lie to you or intentionally mislead you.

Lying to a suspect is a common tactic used by some police officers to gain more information from a suspect. An officer may say that the conversation is “off the record” or tell you that he can get you a better deal if you tell him what happened before you are arrested. However, you cannot lie to the police because that can be a crime.

You do not have to answer questions without an attorney and you should not. Answering questions, even if you have done nothing wrong, could lead to an arrest and conviction. Having an attorney is the best way to protect your legal rights.

5.  You have the right to make a video of a traffic stop.

A police officer cannot stop you from making a video of your traffic stop if you are on public property. You have the right to video the traffic stop if you feel as if your rights are being violated or you feel uncomfortable.