Despite advancements in technology where cell phone video is continuously capturing instances of police brutality, a new study has found that it’s still nearly impossible to prove that an officer “intended” to violate a person’s civil rights. Thus, 96% of Civil Rights complaints have been turned down by prosecutors.
The Tribune-Review confirmed this statistic by reviewing over 3 million records from the Department of Justice between 1995 and 2015. Of the 13,233 complaints that came across the desks of 94 U.S. attorneys, 12,703 were rejected as civil rights violations.
David Hickton, the U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania has frequently reviewed videos which African American suspects were fleeing from police and was subsequently shot in the back. Despite many people considering that situation an act of brutality, Hickton says it’s a gray area.
“When you take sort of a loosely defined accidental encounter at a traffic stop … it’s very difficult starting at that point to get over the intent requirement we face under that statute,” he said. “It was really built for a time when someone went out with a specific intent to do someone harm.”
According to the Tribune, what makes incidents with the police so hard to prosecute is an underlying law — Title 18, Section 242 — dates to 1866. The requirement that officers must “willfully” intend to violate someone’s civil rights stems from a 1945 Supreme Court ruling. Both grew out of Southern racial tensions.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was supposedly set to look into revising the law prior to his resignation.
The study also notes that, federal prosecutors are directed to bring cases only when they can prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“You should bring them if you are convinced it’s the right thing to do — and you’re convinced you can win,” said Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor in New York City. “To bring them and lose them doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.”
Click here to read the full study and learn more about the legal process behind a complaint becoming an viable case.