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What constitutes police misconduct?

News headlines have caused vigorous debate about the lengths law enforcement officers may go to do their jobs. Some Wisconsin residents may be unfamiliar with the protections they have under the U.S. Constitution. Individuals have the right to be treated fairly in all legal proceedings.

The denial of civil rights can include mistreatment - physical and otherwise -- at the time of an arrest, detention or search and seizure. Law enforcers have a considerable amount of power to take action. Authorities do not have the right to deprive criminal defendants of civil rights or impose punishments without due process of law.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates so called "color of law abuses," cases in which on- or off-duty police officers and others are accused of overstepping legal boundaries. More than 40 percent of the FBI's civil rights cases in 2012 dealt with alleged color of law violations.

Police officers are permitted to use force, including deadly force, to carry out their duties. An officer, acting with color of law or government-sanctioned powers, breaks federal laws by using force that is willfully excessive. The FBI must determine whether a law enforcer's actions were reasonable in light of the circumstances.

False arrests also violate a person's civil rights. Limits are set under which police officers are permitted to search individuals and seize property - a person may not be deprived of freedom or property without just cause. It is illegal for law enforcers to violate due process, an individual's fair treatment in the legal process, by fabricating evidence.

Officers also may be accused of purposely failing to protect individuals from harm. Some cases involve allegations of sexual misconduct when officials, empowered by color of law, use force or threats to make individuals comply with their wishes.

Criminal defense attorneys investigate possible police misconduct which, if proven, may lead to the dismissal of a Wisconsin defendant's case.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Color of Law Abuses," accessed Oct. 07, 2015

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