A criminal defendant whose constitutional rights were violated by police, prosecutors or both may have several legal recourses. Perhaps most important is to convince the judge that evidence gathered as the result of unconstitutional tactics not be allowed at trial. In most cases, authorities should not be allowed to profit from abusive, illegal conduct like warrantless searches, racial profiling and so forth.
By the time everything has been sorted out in criminal court, a wronged defendant’s life may have been significantly harmed by unconstitutional behavior. They may have lost their job or even physical harm at the hands of the police. When someone purposely or negligently causes you physical or financial harm, it is natural to consider a civil lawsuit to recover damages.
However, suing the government usually is tougher than an individual or business. Most state employees and police officers enjoy qualified immunity from lawsuits. As The Washington Post explains, would-be plaintiffs face a high bar even to get through the courthouse door.
Generally, when suing a government official with qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that his or her rights were violated, and that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position should have known that his or her actions violated the Constitution. And that is just to bring the case to trial; the plaintiff must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant owes damages.
Nevertheless, such litigation can be another tool for holding corrupt or incompetent police and prosecutors accountable. Our constitutional rights are often all that stand between our property and personal safety, and police abuse.