Project Duration Term Paper

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legal system of the United States of America rests on the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights? The answer is that this is not completely true; the Constitution, when it was initially developed, did not enable authorities to cope successfully with all the disputes that would arise in a basic human society. As the country started to grow and develop, it became more complex, and many issues started to arise, when initially there were none. The need for these problems to be addressed and answered adequately also became important, and finally, it was understood that the only way in which to obtain all the required answers would be the English Common Law. Common Law can be defined as a body of enforceable rules that have grown because of the disputes and arguments that take place all the time within any particular country, and this body of common law in fact lasts longer than most Constitutions, and through the last decades, especially, the courts have come to depend on common law for their clarifications. Recently, for example, the United States Supreme Court rejected one part of the Bill of Rights in favor of one part from the Common Law, and this had to do with the issue of police power. (Individual Rights and the Police Power of States)

Police abuse has become today, a topic of major concern, and it is becoming more and more apparent that the police are failing to recognize the basic rights of the individuals who the police feel are outside the boundaries imposed by the law of the land. One perfect example of police brutality can be seen in the incident wherein the police, in the early hours of March 3, 1991, brutally chased and beat up a young man named Rodney King, on the streets of Los Angeles. The entire police action was captured on camera by an amateur video camera operator, but when the scenes were aired on television that day, the whole of America, in fact, the entire world, sat up and took notice of the extent to which the police would go to apprehend a criminal. (Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual)

Although there was extensive media coverage of the incident, and there was outrage and disbelief at not only the police brutality, but also of the fact that such brutality was concentrated on the black section of the population, there has not been much change in such brutality. For example, in December 1996, in Florida, two men met with their deaths at the hands of Palm Beach County Deputies, and one man died because of asphyxiation caused by a pepper spray. Another man was brutally shot and killed, and yet another died when he was physically restrained in a brutal manner. Yet another was kicked by police officers and he died. There has been progress in some areas as well, and it is obvious that certain reforms have become successful, and today, it is increasingly being recognized that 'police brutality hinders good law enforcement'.

Police brutality is indeed a national problem, and there is no nation in the entire world that is immune to it, but the fact remains that the problem must be fought in a local manner. There are certain federal statutes that specify criminal penalties for those persons who violate the civil rights and the rights of individuals and private citizens, and it is a fact to be understood that the Department of Justice of the United States of America has been at times quite unsuccessful at prosecuting such cases of police abuse. Even within the federal law, there are various problems, for example, it is not permitted within the federal law to 'pattern and practice lawsuits', and this means that police abuse and discrimination must be fought at a local level. (Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual)

Discussion Board -2

An overzealous police officer is one who may not provide the protection that he is supposed to provide to the hapless citizen; on the other hand, he may be a person who uses his power as a federal officer to wreak more damage than is necessary on civilians. For example, the police officer may at times indulge in unreasonable searches and seizures, even though it is a well-known fact that the Fourth Amendment does provide excellent protection for its citizens, and if the police have to search a person or a property, then they would have to show that such a search is both 'reasonable' as well as 'constitutional' and prove that there was indeed reasonable cause for providing justification for such a search. This, perhaps, is the reason that quite a few police officers prefer the 'consent' searches, today. (The Validity of Consent Searches)

In an example, as in the case of 'Atwater vs. City of Lago Vista', 165 F.3d 380 (5th Cir. 1999), an overzealous police officer Bart Turek was on his beta, while Gail Atwater was driving at 15 mph, her children back home, in Lago Vista, Texas. The police officer pulled the driver over, and Gail remained seated. The office walked over, and poked a finger into the woman's face, and started to scream that he had either met the woman before, or he had had a similar conversation with her before, while in reality, the office had indeed stopped Gail, for having allowed her son to sit on the front seat arm rest, and at that time he had been wearing a seat belt. While Gail sat inside the car quite composed, she requested the police office to lower his voice, which served to incite him further, and he started to threaten that she would have to be sent to jail. He also said that Gail was a bad mother because she did not insist on seat belts for her children, and when asked for her license, and when she said that she did not have it with her at the moment, he screamed more abuse at her. (Victims of Overzealous Police Officers)

Meanwhile, friends and neighbors had gathered, and when Gail requested the policeman to allow the children to go to a friend's house rather than to the jail, he refused. The children were, however, rescued by a friend. According to the law of Texas, Turek could have given a traffic citation to Gail, with a promise from her that she would appear, and instead, he handcuffed her and loaded her into the back of his car and taken to the police station where she was subjected to a removal of her shoes and glasses and purse, and had to have her photograph taken as well, and she was kept there for an hour before she was taken to a Magistrate. Gail Atwater then pled no contest for having driven without a set belt, and for allowing her children to do the same. Although other charges of driving without a license were dismissed, Gail stated that she had suffered a trauma because of this incident, and she had to be prescribed medication for nightmares and depression that resulted from the incident and her children suffered too, and required psychiatric counseling. (Victims of Overzealous Police Officers)

Gail's husband brought the civil suit against the police chief, against Officer Turek, and against the City of Lago Vista, for having violated the Fourth Amendments Rights of Gail Atwater to be free from 'unreasonable searches and seizures', and from 'excessive force and punishment', and also her 'right to due process' under the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, Atwater also brought in state law claims for 'false imprisonment' and for 'intentional infliction of emotional distress', one for Gail, and one for the children. In Texas, the law permits the usage of custodial arrests in order to ensure compliance of traffic rules, and it is left to the traffic officer whether or not to arrest the motorist for violations. The law therefore was on the side of Officer Turek, and when the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, the Court in fact granted summary judgment on the basis of 'qualified immunity'.

The Court in addition, held that Atwater had not identified exactly which part of the fourth Amendment had been violated, and also stated that the individual defendants had not, in fact acted in an unreasonable manner at all. Gail's claim of 'unreasonable seizure' was dismissed by the Court, despite Gail's pleas that she was arrested and kept in jail even though she had fully complied with the officer's demands, and this constituted unreasonable seizure. In conclusion, it can be said that not one single Court has in fact asked to consider and think about a police officer's actions wherein he arrested, handcuffed, booked, and then dragged a first time seat belt violator to jail, and, even if there happened to be such cases brought to the attention of the Court, the Court accepted the fact that the victims were either lacking in the resources to call the officer's hand, or…[continue]

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