Police Brutality and Jail Abuse Cases Under Section 1983: What is the Statute of Limitations?

Uniformed police officer patting down a suspect pulled over during a traffic stop.When an attorney or lawyer reviews a potential police brutality or jail abuse case for the first time, one of the most important questions that needs to examined at the beginning is this: when does the statute of limitations expire? The statute of limitations is critical to know, because it sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings must be started. When the period specified in the statute of limitations passes, a lawsuit can no longer be filed.  It’s too late.

Police brutality and jail abuse cases that involve violations of constitutional rights are typically filed under a federal law called 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Known by short as “Section 1983,” the law permits lawsuits based on violations of constitutional rights. These include the right to be free from excessive force, the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to due process, among other rights.

Unlike many laws, Section 1983 does not contain its own statute of limitations. There is no federal law that dictates the precise statute of limitations that applies to Section 1983 lawsuits. This means there is no national uniformity on the question of when the lawsuit must be filed. Many attorneys do not realize this.

When determining the statute of limitations that applies to any particular case under Section 1983, the Supreme Court has decided that the law of the forum state applies. This is an unusual concept. It means that even though Section 1983 is a federal law that applies in all 50 states, the statute of limitations will vary depending on where the case is brought. Keep in mind, too, that the case must be brought in the proper court and often there is no choice about where to file suit. For this reason, it is important for an attorney to consider where the case arose and where it must be filed before he or she can decide what the deadline is. A Section 1983 lawsuit brought in one state might have a different filing deadline than the same lawsuit brought across the border in a neighboring state.

It’s important to consult with a lawyer about your potential case sooner, rather than later, so that your case can be evaluated in a timely way. There is rarely a “one size fits all” answer to important legal questions. The attorneys at Budge & Heipt handle police brutality and jail abuse cases arising in various states and know that each case must be evaluated on its own. Determining the correct statute of limitations is no exception. While there are various on-line resources that can provide basic guidance, there is no substitute for legal advice from attorneys who are experienced and focused on Section 1983 cases. If you have a police brutality or jail abuse case that you would like to discuss, contact the attorneys at Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.

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.