Can I Sue for Unreasonable Force if I’m Guilty?

Police stormed into Julian Betton’s home during a drug raid and shot him nine times. They claim they knocked first, but video shows that they didn’t.

Betton, who was left paralyzed after the shooting, filed a lawsuit in 2015, and last month some of the defendants settled for a total of $2.75 million – far short of the tens of millions of dollars Betton’s attorney says are needed for his future medical costs.

Four Drug Enforcement Unit agents, the head of the DEU, and the 15th Circuit solicitor admitted no wrongdoing when they settled the case (if they pay $2.75 million for no wrongdoing, I’d hate to see what they pay if they actually screw something up).

Betton’s case against the City of Myrtle Beach and one of the DEU agents who raided his home is still going forward, according to his attorney.

He Was Guilty, So How Can He Sue?

Betton pleaded guilty to two drug charges after the raid. He was sentenced to five years on each charge, but the sentences were suspended.

So, why should a man who is an admitted drug dealer be allowed to sue the police and the city for injuries he suffered while they were doing their job?

Even when a defendant turns out to be guilty, the Constitution doesn’t allow the police to just shoot them, beat them, leave them paralyzed, or kill them. If you pay attention to the news, you know that this kind of thing still happens, and plenty of cops get away with it.

It’s impossible to know how a jury would have ruled (and may still rule in the case against the remaining defendants), but the defendants who settled obviously thought going to trial might cost them even more…

What is a 1983 Action?

Under 42 U.S. Code § 1983, anyone who acts “under color of law” in a way that violates a person’s constitutional rights can be sued.

This means if police officers acting under the power given to them by a governmental agency violate a suspect’s rights – such as the Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of unreasonable force – they can be sued. When police officers use more force than is reasonably necessary, they are liable for the harm they cause.

Betton’s lawsuit claimed that the city and the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights during the raid. The Fourth Amendment protects us against, among other things, against the unreasonable use of force.

Whether or not a person is guilty of criminal charges has no bearing on whether the police used unreasonable force during an arrest – although police will point to the victim’s charges or criminal record, it is not a legal defense to unreasonable use of force.

Myrtle Beach Criminal Defense and Civil Rights Lawyer

Daniel A. Selwa, II is a criminal defense attorney in Myrtle Beach, SC. If you have been charged with a crime in the Horry County area including Myrtle Beach, Conway, or Georgetown SC, call now at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our online contact form to set up a free, confidential consultation about your case.

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