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If a law enforcement officer violates your constitutional rights, or assaults you without cause, can you defend yourself?

Pullman, WA |

If police are hassling you for say videotaping them, and they attempt to arrest you, can you resist without being charged for resisting? Also, if an officer begins to assault you without cause, can you defend yourself and detain them as you would with a "normal" person? It seems police can unjustly strip us of our rights and detain/arrest us for things the constitution permits, yet there is no recourse. Police are also using excessive force both with reason and without reason and don't get disciplined. Could someone perform a citizen's arrest on an officer brutalizing an individual or else acting against the Constitution?

Attorney Answers 4


  1. Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act provides the remedy. The "do it yourself" remedies you propose are not allowed under the Constitution or your state laws.

    Police are fired, fined and imprisoned for breaking the law. In my area that happens and is in the news. A citizen's arrest will not work either.


  2. NO. If your rights have been violated, the proper forum to address those issues is court, not by engaging in further unlawful activity.

    Please note that THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE and are for informational purposes only. This response is not intended to create any attorney-client relationship and is only based on the limited facts given. The response might change should additional facts be learned and should not be relied on as legal advice. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney who can properly assess the situation, as well as all pertinent facts, prior to taking any action based on the foregoing statements


  3. The answer to your several questions is 'no'.

    True enough, there are acts that are not permissible under the Constitution that occur every day.

    Fighting with police is an event guaranteed to result in charges, jail, maybe even conviction. The public expects police to win street tussles--its part of maintaining a status quo and ordered daily social routine.

    The old song about tugging on 'Superman's cape, spitting into the wind'... good advice.

    NOT LEGAL ADVICE. FOR EDUCATION AND INFORMATION ONLY. DO NOT RELY ON ANY ADVICE YOU RECEIVE FROM ME OR ANY OTHER ATTORNEY IN THIS FORUM. Legal advice comes after a complete review of the facts and relevant documents and an expressed (written) agreement of representation that forms attorney-client confidentiality. Neither of these two events can occur in this forum. Mr. Rafter is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the US Federal Courts in Virginia. His answers to any Avvo question are rooted in general legal principles--NOT your specific state laws. There is no implied or actual attorney-client relationship arising from this education exchange. You should speak with an attorney licensed in your state, to whom you have provided all the facts before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. Mr. Rafter is under no obligation to answer subsequent emails or phone calls related to this or any other matter.


  4. Candidly, you have asked a question that has two correct answers. Yes and No.

    Yes, there are necessity and justification defenses that one may offer in defense at trial.

    No, you should not use force to resist a police officer's arrest, search, citation or other interference with your freedoms ... not because you would lack a MORAL right to defend yourself or another, but because the circumstances in which your defense would succeed at trial are so rare so unimaginable and so unlikely that your chance of successfully pleading self-defense, necessity, or justification, are slightly WORSE than a snowball's chance in hell.

    On the other hand, as an indication that some have deeply tired of police abuse as standard practice, Indiana amended in "Castle Doctrine" a year or so ago, to specifically ALLOW the use of necessary force AGAINST state employees (police).

    I have linked a web post below on the Indiana law and the controversy it has engendered.

    I have practiced federal constitutional law and federal civil rights law for more than a quarter century. In that time, I have had more protestors and demonstrators as clients than most folks have hair on their head. I have NEVER advised a client to resist arrest or to use force against police; in fact, I have counseled the opposite. The truth is, if you were to react with force against an officer the FAT BLUE LINE would surround you and take you down on a more or less permanent basis.

    Instead, what I have always urged clients is that, if police abuses occur, do not resist, and immediately contact me so that we can begin building an appropriate legal response to police abuse.

    Of course, while I tell you not to respond with force, I have to recognize that there are times when going to jail, or at least facing trial for killing or injuring a police officer is a better choice than seeing an innocent child shot to death. I am including another link below on the recent incident in which an officer shot a teen to death when he opened the front door of his house. The officer claimed the boy was armed, but he was holding a Wii controller. A grand jury just ruled that the officer's actions "were not authorized by law." That finding would go a long way toward justification if the teen boy's mother had put a hole in the officer when she saw her pulling her gun to shoot the boy.

    This answer is not a substitute for consulting with and retaining the services of an attorney for your legal needs. By providing this answer, I am not entering into an attorney client relationship with you.