One of the main jobs of a police brutality attorney is to ferret out information from the defense. Before a lawsuit is filed with the court, this can be difficult to do. Police officers, their supervisors, and their attorneys are most often tight-lipped about the facts. Rarely will police brutality victims and/or their families be given information voluntarily. The sad fact is that if the police aren’t forced to provide information about an excessive force incident, they usually won’t provide any at all.
Lawyers are not magicians, but once a police brutality lawsuit is filed with a court, they do have certain powers. These powers are not mystical. Rather, they are powers conferred on the parties by the court in which the excessive force lawsuit is filed.
Among these powers are the powers of “discovery.” You may have heard attorneys or lawyers use the term “discovery” when talking about the work that goes into investigating and building a police brutality case. Just what is this “discovery,” and how can the power of the court be used to get information that the police won’t give voluntarily?
In the context of a lawsuit, the word “discovery” refers to court requirements that make one side answer certain questions and turn over certain information if properly asked by the other side. There are a variety of discovery tools available under the rules of the court where the lawsuit is filed. A police brutality attorney should know what tools are available to him or her and how to best take advantage of those tools to get information that might be useful to proving the case. Keep in mind, however, that the tools must be used correctly. Most courts place deadlines or time limits on when and how the tools can be used, require that the information being sought be germane to the case, and put other safeguards in place to keep lawyers from abusing the rules. In other words, the privilege of using the tools can be limited if the tools are misused.
What kinds of discovery tools are available to lawyer who represents the victim of police brutality? Here are four tools that can be of great use:
- Depositions: A lawyer in a police brutality case generally has the power to require that anyone with information (including the police officers who are defendants in the case as well as other witnesses) give testimony about what happened. In a deposition, this testimony occurs outside a courtroom — usually in a lawyer’s office. The testimony is under oath, just like it would be in court. The testimony is transcribed (typed down) by a court reporter. The lawyer can ask a wide variety of questions, and the witness is required to answer all proper questions. In some situations the deposition can be videotaped. By requiring a deposition of a witness before trial, the police brutality attorney can learn a great deal of information about what the witness alleges to have happened, as well as other information that might be useful to proving the excessive force claim. Depositions are one of the most critical tools an attorney has available to him or her.
- Interrogatories: Attorneys are also permitted to ask questions in writing. Known as “interrogatories,” these questions can include requests for information about who has knowledge concerning the event, information about anticipated defenses, and other requests for background information that might be useful to have before the deposition takes place.
- Requests for Production: In addition to interrogatories, a police brutality attorney can also ask that certain documents or tangible evidence be turned over or made available for inspection. These formal requests are known as “requests for production.” In a police brutality case, such requests should include demands for reports, statements, interview transcripts, completed forms, photographs, videos, drawings, and even physical evidence bearing on the case. Requests for production should often be issued before depositions since the documents that are produced (such as use of force reports, interviews and written statements) can form the basis for many of the questions to be asked under oath.
- Subpoenas: Attorneys in police brutality cases also have the ability to issue subpoenas to third parties for information and materials that might bear on the case. Subpoenas can include, for example, requests for information to eyewitnesses (e.g., statements, photographs, etc.), requests to corporate entities (e.g., for surveillance video or reports generated during the course and scope of business operations), and requests to governmental entities (e.g., other police departments that may have played a role in investigating the force used).
At Budge & Heipt, our motto revolves around a quote from the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses–behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” By taking full advantage of the tools at our disposal, including the discovery tools outlined above, our goal is to be fully prepared and “ready to rumble” well before we step into the courtroom on the first day of trial.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of police brutality causing serious injuries or death, contact our office for a free consultation by calling 206.624.3060 today.