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Queens criminal defense attorney police body cam evidenceIn response to constitutional rights violations committed by officers of the New York City Police Department, a U.S. federal court directed the NYPD to implement a body-worn camera program. As of March 2019, 20,000 uniformed patrol officers now wear body cameras. Civil rights activists have hailed body cams as a valuable tool for holding police officers accountable for their actions on the street and reducing incidents in which citizens claim the police used excessive force. The NYPD expects body cams to “encourage lawful and respectful interactions between the public and the police.”

NYPD Rules for Body Camera Recordings

NYPD regulations for body cam recordings include:

  • Officers must record all responses to a crime in progress, interactions with criminal suspects and emotionally disturbed people, searches, arrests, and uses of force. 
  • Specific situations not to be recorded include strip searches, interviewing of sex crime victims, and conversations with confidential informants. 
  • Officers do not need anyone’s permission to record public interactions. However, officers have been directed to inform you when you are being recorded. When a person asks whether they are being recorded, the officer must answer honestly unless doing so “would compromise the safety of any person or impede an investigation.”
  • The NYPD will keep all recordings for at least 18 months.
  • Recordings related to a criminal case will be turned over to the prosecuting attorney’s office, who must provide the video to the defendant’s attorney along with other evidence as required by criminal discovery laws.
  • Recordings may also be requested by the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Police officers may always view footage of an incident before making any official statement.

A February 2019 ruling by a New York state appeals court has ensured that the public will have access to police body cam recordings. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association challenged the release of body cam video to the public, arguing that it would violate a New York State privacy law, NYCL CVR section 50-a, that prevents the public release of any police officer’s personnel records except by court order. The court ruled that these recordings do not constitute a personnel record and that they must be released in order to achieve the “transparency, accountability, and public trust-building” objectives of the body-worn camera program.

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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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