Can A Federal Prosecutor Charge Police with A Civil Rights Violation?

By Robert Lear posted 03-11-2020 01:36 PM


Federal prosecutors have the power under federal law to criminally prosecute people who violate the civil rights of others. When state prosecutors fail to pursue civil rights violations, federal prosecutors are able to bring a case in federal court. 

Cases where civil rights are violated

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the word “willfully” that appears in 18 U.S.C. § 242 regarding deprivation of civil rights means that defendants must have the specific intent of depriving a victim of a federal right and this can be tough to prove. 

George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting Trayvon Martin. There was no dispute that he shot him but to convict him, the jury had to prove that he had criminal intent. They ended up believing Zimmerman that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. There was much speculation that federal prosecutors would file federal criminal charges against him for violating Martin’s civil rights but they eventually decided not to do so. 

However, in the Rodney King case, where he was beaten by police officers, federal charges were brought against the police officers and two of them were convicted. 

Have your civil rights been violated?

If you believe your civil rights have been violated, you need to talk to an attorney with experience in such cases. Police Brutality Lawyers are able to explain the law to you and help you navigate the criminal justice system. 

Your constitutional rights may have been violated by the police, such as the 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure or the 14th Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of the law. Other civil rights violation cases against the police may include theft, false arrest, sexual misconduct and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs while in custody. 

Federal hate crime laws

Under 18 U.S.C. § 245, federal prosecutors can charge a person with a hate crime. This applies if a person interferes with the ability of the victim to engage in any of six federally protected activities because of “race, color, religion or national origin.” If you have been subjected to a hate crime, it is possible for you to find a local lawyer to defend you by going to the website

The power of the federal government to prosecute civil rights violations was expanded when the 18 U.S.C. § 249 (the Shepard Act) came into being. For example, where state law doesn’t provide protection based on sexual orientation, the Shepard Act can be used to prosecute someone who beats up a homosexual because of his sexual orientation. 

Other federal rights violations and hate crimes may be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 241 or 34 U.S.C. § 12601. The first involves a conspiracy to injure, threaten, or intimated someone for exercising legal or constitutional rights and the second involves a practice or pattern by law enforcement officials to deprive people of their constitutional rights 


Penalties for federal civil rights violations can be severe. The penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 242 increase when the crime leads to injury or death, or when it involves kidnapping or dangerous weapons. Violations under 18 U.S.C. § 245 and 249 that result in bodily injuries can mean spending up to 10 years in a federal prison. If the result is death, it’s punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

If you’ve been a victim of police brutality or any other action that violated your civil rights, an experienced attorney will be able to explain the laws that apply to your situation and what legal options are available to you. 

1 view