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NYC criminal defense lawyer prosecutor misconductEveryone has heard about the repercussions of police misconduct, but much less has been done about the problem of misconduct by prosecuting attorneys. When New York police commit a constitutional rights violation, such as unlawful arrest or excessive use of force, the victim can win a large financial settlement in civil court, and the offending police officers can face criminal prosecution for civil rights violations as well as job termination. But what happens when a New York assistant district attorney (ADA) violates someone’s civil rights? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors, including both the individual and their employer, cannot be sued for civil rights violations except in very rare instances. 

Prosecutors Who Commit Illegal Acts Go Largely Unpunished

The New York Times recently described a particularly egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct in which a Suffolk County ADA altered police records to remove exculpatory information on a young man who was being prosecuted for first-degree murder. When this misconduct was discovered, the ADA was fired, and that murder case was dismissed along with five other homicide cases in which the ADA concealed evidence that favored the accused. Was that ADA or his office sued by the victims who were unjustly prosecuted and imprisoned? Was he indicted on criminal charges or at least barred from practicing law? No. He is now a criminal defense lawyer, and his website actually highlights his former employment as a homicide prosecutor.

New York Creates Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission

At present, the powers of New York prosecutors are “virtually unchecked,” according to a New York City Council Member. “The [district attorney] alone decides who to charge and for what … which information to share with the grand jury and which to withhold … who sits [in jail] awaiting trial… and when, if ever, the defense gets access to information critical to the case.”

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Bronx civil rights lawyerIf you have suffered a constitutional rights violation at the hands of the police or any other branch of city or county government in New York, you may be eligible to file a claim for damages in federal court. The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain rights to each person, including:

  • The First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment protections that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ” nor “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Filing a Section 1983 Claim Against a Local Government Entity 

Federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that both a municipal government employee and the employing government body can be held liable for damages when said employee violates your constitutional rights while acting “under color of law” and in keeping with the “custom, practice, or policy” of the employer. You can make a claim for:

  • Compensatory damages to compensate you for actual financial losses incurred.  
  • Punitive damages to punish egregious wrongdoing and deter similar wrongful acts in the future.
  • Injunctive relief, which requires the defendant to take or refrain from certain actions.
  • Payment of attorney fees if you win your case.

If you believe your rights have been violated, it is critical to speak with an attorney very quickly. Although you will be filing a lawsuit in federal court, the statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims is set by each state. In New York, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the incident in which your rights were violated. However, if you plan to bring a claim against any city agency, you must notify the city of your claim within 90 days of the incident.

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Queens civil rights violation litigation lawyerThe use of physical force to control other people is part of the daily life of New York City police and corrections officers. They must break up fights, restrain arrestees, and handle people who are drunk, drugged, or violently resistant. In some cases, an officer must use extreme force, and the person being restrained may suffer serious injury. Such cases may result in a civil lawsuit arising from the claim that the police officer committed a federal civil rights violation by using excessive force.

However, the mere fact that an injury occurred is not, in itself, proof that an officer used excessive force. The difference between reasonable force and excessive force depends on the totality of the circumstances at the scene.

Consequences for Federal Civil Rights Violations

When a law enforcement or corrections officer is accused of using excessive force, the officer can face multiple consequences including:

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NYC criminal defense lawyer police drone surveillanceAt least 910 law enforcement and fire/emergency agencies across the U.S. now use drones, a figure that more than doubled from 2016 to 2018. Among them is the New York Police Department, which announced the formation of a new group specifically to handle drones on December 4, 2018.

The NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) will oversee the new team of 29 specially-trained officers and 14 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). TARU’s primary job is to provide audiovisual surveillance technology and services to the entire NYPD, and their efforts will likely play a large role in many criminal defense cases.

Uses of Drones for Law Enforcement in New York City

The NYPD plans to use their drones for purposes such as:

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