Typically, we do not want to bring the civil claims regarding police misconduct or brutality until the criminal case is resolved.
The primary reason for that is there is a U.S. Supreme Court case called Heck v. Humphrey that holds that if the resolution of the criminal case will necessarily decide the issue of whether force was excessive, then you can’t even pursue that civil case. If you want to bring a claim for excessive force against a police officer and you are charged with a crime of violence, the crime of violence with which you are charged could preclude the use of force you claim is excessive from being found by a court to be excessive. If you wind up pleading guilty or no contest to that criminal charge, or are convicted of it by a jury, your civil claim is automatically going to be extinguished.
What we will often recommend to our clients, as long as there is time before the statute of limitations runs out, is to work with their criminal attorney to resolve whatever it is that they are being charged with and then worry about a civil claim. In the meantime, we can try to quietly investigate what happened. We do not want to draw too much attention to the fact that there may be a civil claim coming.
There is a legal-ethics opinion from the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Professional Conduct that advises that it’s unethical for a prosecutor to demand a release of civil liability from someone they are prosecuting, if there is no probable cause to support the charges to begin with. If there is no probable cause, then the prosecutor should not be expecting the person that they are prosecuting to sign a release of civil liability before dropping charges or cutting a plea deal. (Unfortunately, we see prosecutors violate this all the time.)
For more information on Impact of Police Misconduct Civil Case on a Criminal Case, please call our office today at (216) 578-1700 and speak with one of our intake specialists, or fill out our online contact form.