Everyone in the United States is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Many people in America are still fighting for their civil rights. Civil rights refer to legal provisions that stem from notions of equality.

A common civil rights violation is law enforcement’s use of force against someone because of that person’s race, sexual orientation, religion or immigration status.

How do you know if your civil rights have been violated?

If you are an African-American man who is pulled over by police without just cause, yanked from your car even though you have no weapon and are cooperating and are then beaten, this is clearly a criminal civil rights violation.

There are federal and state laws in place to protect you from police misconduct. You should also be aware of what law enforcement is not allowed to do once you are detained. This includes:

  • A police officer should not use unreasonable or excessive force.
  • The police should not use a weapon on a person who does not have a weapon.
  • The police should not intimidate a suspect by threat of force or by the use of a weapon into giving a statement.

Steps to take after a civil rights violation

Did the police use excessive police force or brutality? This is often a gray area when it comes to what an officer perceives as a threat. If there is clearly no threat, and there is no probable cause, you may have a cut-and-dried case of brutality.

If you are the victim of police brutality or excessive force then you have the right to seek damages for your injuries. You may be able to bring a lawsuit in federal court.

  • If the officer also searched your car without consent or probable cause you may also have a case that your Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures” was violated.
  • In many cases of excessive force the Fourteenth Amendment may also be at issue concerning your right to equal protection under the law.
  • Depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to bring a claim under the federal Civil Rights Act.
  • If a loved one was killed by excessive force or police brutality then pursuing a negligence or wrongful death claim against the officer(s) police department and municipality that employs the officers may be steps you need to take.

Some cases of police brutality are very clear from the onset, especially if there is video footage of the incident. Others are not as clear and require the review of an experienced civil rights attorney.