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Police Misconduct Laws and Claims in D.C.

Since police are entrusted with the task of enforcing the laws, they're given wide latitude to detain suspects. But while you may be arrested for disobeying an officer's order (such as "freeze!" or "stop the car!"), misconduct on the part of the police can result in disciplinary action for the officers involved. Police misconduct includes unlawful searches and seizures (which violate the Fourth Amendment) and excessive use of force, among other forms of misconduct. And while police are protected by "qualified immunity" as long as their actions don't violate specific individual rights, you have legal options in the event that they do in fact violate your rights.

Note: If you've been charged with criminal misconduct, seek advice from an attorney before filing a complaint against a police officer. A claim or complaint against a police officer while you have charges pending may waive your right to remain silent. Any information contained in your police misconduct complaint or claim may be used against you.

The following sections summarize your rights and legal options regarding police misconduct laws and claims in the District of Columbia.

Washington, D.C. Police Misconduct Laws and Claims: The Basics

Understanding your rights is important to a functioning democracy, but reading statutory language is seldom an easy exercise. For your convenience, we've summarized the basics of police misconduct laws and claims in the District of Columbia in plain language in the following chart.


District of Columbia Code:

Federal Laws:

Access to Police Records

Individuals have the right to access copies of public records which can include the following:

  • Duplicates of 911 recordings
  • Police reports
  • Police dispatch calls
  • Photographs
  • Official police policies and procedures

Claims for Police Misconduct

Citizens may file complaints alleging police misconduct. Examples of misconduct include:

  • Harassment;
  • Use of unnecessary or excessive force;
  • Use of language or conduct that is insulting, demeaning, or humiliating;
  • Discrimination on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, physical disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business;
  • Retaliation against a person for filing a complaint; or
  • Failure to wear or display required identification or to identify oneself by name and badge number when requested to do so by a member of the public.

Internal Complaints for Police Misconduct

Individuals who believe their rights have been violated by the police may file a complaint with the Office of Police Complaints.

Interference with Civil Rights

The federal code states that "Whoever, under color of any law, …willfully subjects any person…to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States [shall be guilty of a crime]."

Such deprivation of rights may include (but isn't limited to):

  • Physical assault;
  • Sexual misconduct;
  • Deliberate indifference to a serious medical condition or substantial risk of harm; or
  • A failure to intervene.

The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigates police misconduct claims and must prove the following elements in order to get a conviction:

  1. Defendant deprived a victim of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States;
  2. Defendant acted willfully; and
  3. Defendant was acting under color of law.

To file a complaint alleging criminal violations by a peace officer, contact your local FBI office and send a written complaint to:

Criminal Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • District of Columbia Law - Summaries of select D.C. laws covering a wide range of practice areas, including criminal, injury, family, and consumer law.
  • Official State Codes - Links to the official online statutes (laws) in all 50 states and DC.

Police Misconduct Laws and Claims in D.C.: Related Resources

Get Legal Help With Your D.C. Police Misconduct Claim

If you've been mistreated by a police officer, you should know that you have certain rights. However, proving such a claim is very difficult, especially since it's often your word against that of the officer. You'll want expert legal help if you plan to file a claim. Get started today by contacting an experienced Washington, D.C. civil rights attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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