Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law – 18 U.S.C. § 242
If a public official deprives a citizen of their civil or constitutional rights, then they will be charged under 18 U.S.C. § 242. Moreover, the statute makes it a crime for any person under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived of any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Individuals commonly charged under this section include police officers, sheriff deputies, federal agents, prison guards, judges, district attorneys, and caretakers at public health facilities. Indeed, off-duty law enforcement officers may be subject to Section 242 if they act or claim to act in their official capacity.
Examples of depriving someone of their rights under color of law may include:
- A police officer exerts an excessive and unnecessary force upon a suspect.
- During a domestic violence incident, an off-duty federal agent tells his spouse not to call 911 or he will have her arrested.
- A sheriff's deputy sexually assaults a female suspect by groping her breasts during a body search.
- A police officer unreasonably shoots a suspect that posed no risk of harm to officer safety.
- An inmate was having sexual relations with a prison guard.
Top Criminal Defense Attorney for California Law Enforcement Officers for High Stakes Cases
State or federal charges for any law enforcement officer are extremely serious because it carries career-ending consequences. An officer may be fired, lose their pension, and unthinkably have to serve time in jail. Therefore, it is paramount that you retained an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer who routinely represents law enforcement personnel. Retaining an inexperienced attorney may cause irreparable harm to your case and assist the government in building their case against you.
Attorney John Rogers is a board-certified criminal law specialist by the State Bar of California. This rare distinction has only been achieved by a small percentage of California criminal defense attorneys. His primary concern is to protect his client's freedom and avoid devasting collateral consequences. He is part of a small group of attorneys in California who represent police officers and federal agents for state and federal charges.
The federal government initiates an investigation usually when an incident becomes newsworthy to draw their attention. Sometimes local police departments will also make a referral to federal authorities for possible federal charges. Ordinarily, the Office of the Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation conduct a joint investigation.
If your department initiates an administrative investigation, and you are assigned a union representative, it is critical that you not consult or confide with your union representative unless they are an attorney. Oftentimes, an officer will make statements in their defense in an inner-department misconduct investigation and these statements will be used against them in a subsequent criminal prosecution. Therefore, you must consult with a law enforcement defense attorney the moment you believe you may be under criminal investigation.
What is the Government Required to Prove?
To prove a defendant is guilty of 18 U.S.C. 242, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Defendant deprived a victim of a right which is secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States,
- Defendant acted under the color of law when depriving the victim of a constitutional right, and
- Defendant acted willfully to deprive the victim of such a right.
Punishment for Federal Assault Under Color of Law
A misdemeanor conviction carries a punishment of:
- Up to 1 year in jail,
- A fine of up to $250,000.
If bodily injury results from depriving someone of their rights under the color of law, the crime becomes a straight felony punishable by:
- Up to 10 years in prison,
- A fine of up to $250,000,
- Supervised release for 3 years.
This punishment also applies if the offense is carried with the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosive, or fire.
Aggravated Conduct or Death
If death results or if such acts involve:
- Attempt to kidnap,
- Aggravated sexual abuse,
- Attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse,
- Attempt to kill,
then the punishment carries:
- Life in prison, or
Defenses to Assault Under Color of Law
A defendant's incriminating admissions could have resulted from a violation of their rights under Garrity v. New Jersey. Moreover, the Garrity warning is an advisement of rights usually administered by federal, state, or local investigators to their employees who may be the subject of an internal investigation. A violation of an individual's right under Garrity may lead to the suppression of their incriminating statements and any derivative evidence.
A law enforcement officer may have employed a countermeasure to protect themselves or the well-being of another. This defense is used to justify the use of force on a suspect that presents some form of a reasonable threat.
Color of Law
A person acts under the color of law when they act with either actual or apparent federal, state, or local government authority. However, a person who acts purely in a private capacity is not subject to Section 242, even if the person is a government employee. The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that “acts of [law enforcement] officers in the ambit of their personal pursuits are plainly excluded.”
18 U.S.C. § 242 requires that a public employee act willfully in depriving a suspect of their constitutional right. Therefore, an act committed by accident will negate the willfulness of the act. For example, evidence showing a defendant's conduct was careless, inadvertent, or negligent will support negating the willful requirement the prosecution must prove.
Related State and Federal Charges to 18 U.S.C. § 242
Making a false statement to federal investigators is a felony charged under 18 U.S.C. 1001. It carries a punishment of up to 5 years in federal prison.
Filing False Police Report
A police officer can be charged under Penal Code 118.1 if they knowingly and intentionally make or cause a false statement to be included in a police report. This crime is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. A felony conviction carries a jail sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years. A misdemeanor conviction carries up to 1 year in the county jail.
Sexual battery is charged at the state level under Penal Code 243.4 making it unlawful to touch the intimate body part of another. It is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor conviction carries up to 1 year in the county jail. A felony conviction carries a state prison sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years.
Contact an Experienced Orange County Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer for Law Enforcement Officers
If you are a police officer or a law enforcement personnel, then you must retain a competent federal criminal defense attorney. Any conviction will carry public recognition, embarrassment, and career-ending consequences. You must hire a lawyer who is experienced in representing law enforcement. Contact us today to schedule a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.
 18 U.S.C. § 242 defined – (“Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”).
 See United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787 (1966).
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