Hiring a Police Brutality Attorney: Why Experience Matters

Published: December 7, 2015
Budge & Heipt

Hiring a police brutality attorney can be among the most important decisions you make. There is no shortage of lawyers in America. But only a tiny fraction of lawyers focus on police brutality. When it comes to winning your police brutality case, the lawyer you choose should be one who knows the law of police brutality, who is experienced in the strategy of police brutality cases, who knows what evidence to get and how to get it, and who has the resources and reputation to go the distance.

The fact is that police brutality lawsuits are unique. Lawyers who focus on police brutality cases know this. Here are some of the key reasons why police brutality cases require an attorney with specific experience, knowledge, and expertise:

• The law of police brutality cases is unique. Police brutality cases are most often brought under federal law, pursuant to a unique statute called 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The law gives victims of police brutality the right to sue for violations of constitutional rights, such as the right to be free from excessive force. The law governing police brutality cases is very different from the laws governing ordinary negligence cases under state law. Unique standards of proof apply. Likewise, there are unique defenses available in police brutality cases—such as the defense of qualified immunity—which are often misunderstood by lawyers without experience in such cases and which take experience and expertise to overcome. Laws about who can sue, who can be sued, and when and where the lawsuit must occur are also unique to police brutality cases. In a nutshell, lawyers who treat police brutality cases like any ordinary case can be in for a rude awakening.

• The strategy of police brutality cases is also unique. From the moment your lawyer hears about your police brutality case, he or she should be thinking about strategy. Should a lawsuit be filed immediately, or should additional time be taken to gather evidence, interview witnesses and demand information pursuant to public disclosure laws? When and where should suit be filed? Is it a case of improper training (potentially implicating the police department itself) or is it a case of a rogue officer or officers disregarding their training? Should experts be lined up before-hand? Should your lawsuit detail the facts and allegations in great detail, or should you just allege the basics pending further information? Who should be deposed, and in what order? These and countless other strategic decisions demand a police brutality attorney with experience.

• In police brutality cases, the reputation and connections your lawyer has is important. Police brutality cases usually require experts in fields as diverse as ballistics, forensic medicine, psychology and psychiatry, law enforcement training, and countless other areas unique to the individual case. Attorneys who regularly practice in the area of police brutality have professional connections with experts in numerous areas who can be called on to offer their expertise as testifying or consulting experts on the case. Reputation with the defense attorneys is also key. When defense attorneys sense that the lawyer for the victim is inexperienced, he or she may try to take advantage of that fact to railroad your case, hoping that the inexperienced attorney will make a mistake. Conversely, when the defense attorney knows he or she is dealing with an experienced lawyer who is willing to go the distance and knows how to litigate the case, the defense attorney may be more inclined to recommend a reasonable settlement to end the case before it goes to trial.

• Money matters. Police brutality cases can be extraordinarily expensive to litigate, and experienced police brutality attorneys know this. Unlike many other kinds of cases, costs alone can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. An experienced police brutality lawyer has working capital—money in the bank—that can be advanced to pay the many thousands of dollars that it often takes to prepare a case for settlement or trial. Without money to hire experts, pay for deposition costs, and finance the litigation from beginning to end, a meritorious police brutality case can die on the vine before it ever gets to trial. An experienced police brutality lawyer will be certain that he or she has the financial resources needed to see the case though to the end.

The bottom line is this: When deciding who to hire as your police brutality lawyer, look for a lawyer who is experienced and focused on police brutality cases. It really matters.

Budge & Heipt is a law firm committed to obtaining justice for victims and their families who have suffered wrongful death or catastrophic injury due to police brutality and police misconduct in jail or prison. 

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.