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Police Misconduct Laws and Claims in Massachusetts

It's never a good idea to resist an order from a police officer as doing so could result in charges for resisting arrest. Even if it's later shown to have been an improper arrest, civilians must submit to the reasonable restraint and arrest of an officer. But when an officer acts beyond the scope of their authority, like when they use excessive force, you may be able to file a claim. Police misconduct is illegal under federal civil rights and Massachusetts criminal laws.

In addition to excessive force, police misconduct can include unlawful arrest, wrongful imprisonment, racial profiling, or performing an unlawful search and seizure (in violation of the Fourth Amendment). However, keep in mind that police are protected by "qualified immunity" as long as their actions don't violate specific individual 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 is a primer on police misconduct laws and claims in Massachusetts, including summaries of federal law.

Massachusetts Police Misconduct Laws and Claims: The Basics

It can be quite difficult figuring out where to turn when your rights have been violated, especially when it's the police who've wronged you. There are three options for complaining of police misconduct:

  • Filing an internal complaint with the police department;
  • Filing an application for a criminal complaint; and
  • Filing a civil suit.

We've highlighted the main points of Massachusetts' police misconduct laws and claims below for your convenience.


Massachusetts General Laws:

Federal Laws:

State Criminal Charges for Police Misconduct

Any individual may file an application for a criminal complaint against an officer in a state district court. Keep in mind that it's up to the District Attorney (D.A.) whether to pursue such a claim, while they typically rely on officers as witnesses.

If they do determine that there's a strong case against the officer, the D.A. typically will refer the case to the Attorney General's office or a special prosecutor in another county.

Penalties for Failure to Follow Lawful Procedures When Making an Arrest

Most violations of protocol concerning arrests, such as failing to tell a detainee the grounds for their arrest, are punishable (upon conviction) by:

  • Fine of up to $1,000; or
  • Up to 1 year imprisonment.

Internal Complaints for Police Misconduct

Police departments (including the Massachusetts State Police and the Boston Police Department) have procedures for investigating complaints about officers filed by civilians.

Since it's an internal process, police departments tend to protect their officers. However, these complaints typically remain in the officer's personnel file even if no disciplinary action is taken.

Interference with Civil Rights

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

  • Massachusetts Law - Information about Massachusetts statutes, including those pertaining to criminal, family, employment, and injury law.
  • Official State Codes - Links to the official online statutes (laws) in all 50 states and DC.

Police Misconduct Laws and Claims in Massachusetts: Related Resources

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Massachusetts Police Misconduct Claim

If you believe your rights have been violated by a Massachusetts police officer, proving your claim can be quite difficult. It's in your best interest to have a legal professional on your side who can examine the evidence and help you navigate the law. Get started today and contact an experienced Massachusetts civil rights lawyer near you.

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