This article was updated: July 12th, 2023

If you are facing criminal charges in Philadelphia, you may be wondering what type of legal defenses you can make. In the United States, defendants charged with criminal acts are protected by the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits law enforcement officers from making unreasonable searches and seizures of your person, your home, or your car. The Fourth Amendment also prohibits law enforcement officers from using excessive force when arresting a suspect. Additionally, police officers cannot use excessive force when stopping a suspect to investigate or arrest them.

What is Excessive Force?

Police brutality can take many forms, ranging from a police officer slapping a suspect to a police officer murdering a suspect without justification. Excessive force by a police officer involves any force that is objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. Police officers do have a right to use force in very narrow circumstances, such as when the officer or someone else will be hurt or killed unless the officer uses force against the suspect.

In Philadelphia, police officers are supposed to be trained regarding when the use of force is necessary and when it is unreasonable. Police officers should learn that using excessive force means using unreasonable force, which is also unnecessary force. In other words, these words are essentially interchangeable and prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

Whether force is excessive in an individual case will be determined by looking at case law. The judge reviewing your case will balance the amount and type of force the police officer used against the legitimate government need for that force. Whether or not they are a US citizen, every Philadelphia resident has the right to be free from the use of excessive force by the police.


How Does the Fourth Amendment Protect Us?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects everyone in the United States by stating:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from using excessive force when arresting someone. It also prohibits police officers from unreasonable seizures. A seizure can include an arrest or detention of someone’s person or body. As a result, police officers are restrained in how they arrest people and detain them. The Fourth Amendment is an essential tool to protect citizens from the police department abusing its power. 


Excessive Force by Police in Philadelphia 

Unfortunately, Philadelphia has a long history of police brutality. Recently, four men were killed by the Philadelphia Police Department. As of April 2021, the officers involved had not yet faced a jury. One police officer was accused of murdering a 25-year-old after a high-speed chase in Northwest Philadelphia in December 2017. A trial date has not been set for that police officer. The officer involved faces charges for third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and possession of an instrument of crime. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue first-degree murder charges. 


Proving a Fourth Amendment Police Brutality Case

If the police have illegally arrested you, you may have a right to bring a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department to recover compensation for your injuries. A federal statute gives individuals the right to bring a lawsuit against the government when a member of the government violates their civil rights under the Fourth Amendment. To successfully bring a claim against the police department, you will need to approve several different elements. 

Remember that a seizure is not limited to detaining someone. Any method used by law enforcement to stop someone’s movement can constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.  The Supreme Court held that a suspect driving a stolen car and being pursued by the police was seized after colliding with a police barricade designed to stop him. In another case, a suspected thief was shot and killed while being pursued by law enforcement. He was considered to have been “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. 

The best way to understand whether you have a valid legal claim or not is to discuss your case with an experienced civil rights lawyer. There are several basic requirements you will need to prove to recover compensation against the Philadelphia Police Department, including:

  • You will need to have suffered a seizure (this includes an arrest or detention)
  • The seizure was performed by a government employee, such as a police officer
  • The seizure was unreasonable under the circumstances, and
  • You suffered an injury of some sort as a result of the seizure


Remedies Available for a Fourth Amendment Violation

In most civil rights cases, our legal system allows victims to receive money damages for their injuries and losses. In some cases, the victim can also seek reforms. The victim can also request that the court award him or her attorney’s fees. When the court awards a victim attorney’s fees, the government agency will be required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs. 

Remember, civil rights lawsuits are different from criminal proceedings. A police officer who uses excessive force can face criminal charges with a penalty of jail time and fines. In addition, the victim can bring a civil lawsuit through a different process to recover compensation from the police officer and/or the Philadelphia Police Department. When the police officer acted egregiously or maliciously, the court may award additional punitive damages to punish the officer and act as a warning for other potential offenders.


Discuss Your Fourth Amendment Case With a Skilled Lawyer

Did a police officer use excessive force against you when arresting you? If so, you may have a valid Fourth Amendment claim to compensation. The best thing you can do is contact the skilled silver rights lawyers at Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., today to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.