All too often, a person whose civil rights have already been violated will also face retaliatory criminal charges. Taking the right action to avoid such charges is important.
In cases where the police or other governmental agency have violated a person’s civil rights, they will often also seek to have the person criminally charged. There are a few different reasons why a police officer or other government agent would wish to seek such charges:
- Criminal charges can be used as a means of covering up an otherwise improper intrusion into a person’s life. For example, if a police officer improperly stops a car and then violates the driver’s rights by beating the driver, if the officer then release the person without charges it will be more difficult for the officer to justify having stopped the car in the first place.
- Criminal charges may be used to destroy evidence. If a police officer knows that a person has evidence, such as cell phone video, showing that officer committing a civil rights violation, then the officer may arrest the person, and use the search incident to the arrest as a means of obtaining (and destroying) the video. The same basic idea can hold true when there is other physical evidence that the police wish to obtain and destroy. as police are allowed by law to search a person and their nearby property when making an arrest.
- Criminal charges to undermine a person’s credibility tie up their resources. Many police officers who commit civil rights violations prey upon the most vulnerable victims that they can find. By charging a person with a crime, the police officer may hope to undermine the person’s credibility on the theory that people will not believe a person with pending charges. Additionally, having a criminal charge may tie up a person’s money and time, making it harder for them to properly handle the civil rights case.
A person who is facing such a situation can take some action to help protect themselves. Firstly, remain calm and refrain from speaking with the police. Talking to the police one one’s own is almost never wise, and that is especially true when there has already been a civil rights violation. Secondly, avoid saying or doing anything that the police can use as a base for trumped-up charges. For example, yelling at the police while walking towards them could give an officer the ability to argue that he felt in fear for his safety, which could in turn be used to try and justify an improper use of force. Thirdly, seek an attorney and do not file any complaints or make any statements about what happened before consulting with that attorney. Doing so is key to avoiding charges of perjury or false reporting, as the police will often try to pick apart a person’s words and use them against that person. Having a lawyer to perfectly word the statement can avoid that risk.