Civil Rights Law
When working properly, the U.S. criminal justice system can be an incredible tool for finding the truth and holding guilty parties accountable. When it doesn't work, people's rights are violated and innocent people can end up in jail.
To avoid this, police officers, lawyers, and judges must all comply with the high ethical standards and procedural requirements of their jobs. And while most law enforcement officials perform their duties honestly and honorably, mistakes and sometimes instances of intentional misconduct do happen. So, what happens when misconduct leads to a jail sentence?
Police officers are tasked with identifying and investigating crimes, as well as arresting suspects. Departmental policies, state and federal laws, and legal jurisprudence govern how police should run their investigations. Still, some officers do not always complete honest investigations. And instead of gathering and analyzing the evidence presented, they may plant or fabricate evidence that makes it look like the accused committed the crime.
Officers may plant evidence for a variety of reasons:
None of these reasons, however, are legally valid. And they may lead to an illegal arrest, wrongful incarceration, or false conviction.
If no one discovers that police fabricated or planted evidence for a crime before a pre-trial hearing or sentencing, wrongful incarceration could result. That does not mean, however, that the case is over and the defendant is forever barred from justice.
A wrongfully incarcerated person can continue to assert, and present evidence, that the police planted evidence through pre-trial motions or appeals following a conviction. If the defendant is successful, a judge could order their release, prosecutors could drop charges, or the court could overturn their conviction.
Similarly, if another police officer, judge, or lawyer discovers the police planted evidence, then they have an ethical obligation to bring that information before the court. Fabricating evidence is illegal, and the officer involved may face an official reprimand, termination, or criminal charges.
If a defendant can prove their incarceration was based on police-planted evidence, that may be the end of their criminal case.
But they may, however, still bring a civil lawsuit against the police department for damages. Those damages can include how long the person remained behind bars, the amount of income lost while in jail, the degree of pain and suffering the wrongful incarceration caused, and other factors.
Police officers are charged with keeping the public safe and helping to put guilty criminals behind bars. When they abuse their power and fabricate or plant evidence to wrongfully incarcerate an innocent person, that person may hold them accountable for their actions.