Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Preserving Evidence in Cases Involving Police or Governmental Violations of Civil Rights

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Civil Rights » Preserving Evidence in Cases Involving Police or Governmental Violations of Civil Rights

In cases where a person’s civil rights have been violated by the police or another governmental actor, it is important to ensure that the evidence is swiftly preserved. Failing to do so can make it difficult or even impossible to address the misconduct that a person has suffered.


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Instance of the police or another government agency hiding or covering up evidence of misconduct are too numerous to count. The reason why a police officer or governmental official might want to destroy or hide a video, a police report, or other evidence that shows a civil rights violation is obvious. In cases where they are successful, it tends to be the officer’s word against the word of the citizen, and all too often a prosecutor or jury will side with the officer. The result can be a great injustice going unredressed.

Promptly sending demands for the preservation of evidence can go a long way to preventing the destruction of evidence. For such a demand to be effective, it needs to be properly worded and sent to the correct recipients. So as to avoid a situation where the recipients can claim to have not received the demand to preserve, it is prudent to use multiple reliable deliver methods (with confirmation of delivery). The legal rules in Illinois, Iowa, and at the Federal level impose penalties upon a party who does not obey a demand to preserve, up to and including imposing a presumption that the destroyed evidence would have been unfavorable to the party that failed to preserve it.

Obtaining the evidence in a timely fashion is also important, both to safeguard it and to use that evidence as a stepping stone to find and obtain other needed evidence relating to the civil rights abuse. Subpoenas in a court case and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) / Open Records Requests are the two most useful tools in the early stages. In cases where a governmental agency fails to comply with such a request, there are sanctions that can be imposed by a court.


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A person whose civil rights have been violated is well advised to seek an attorney at once. Addressing a civil rights violation requires that the right action be taken in a timely fashion, as failing to do so can prevent a person from being able to properly prove their case in court.


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