Many people view police officers as authority figures who have protected the public’s best interests as their ultimate goal. Others feel that law enforcement officers, individually and as a whole, abuse their authority. This alleged abuse can take the form of discrimination, disregard for people’s rights, ignoring laws while expecting others to follow them, and even corruption.
During the course of performing their duty, police officers can have valid reasons to search private property. That property can be a residence, a commercial building, or a vehicle, for example. While most officers take reasonable care not to damage this property, there are times when it happens anyway.
Say that an officer pulls you over for a routine traffic violation such as speeding. The officer may decide to search your car and damage it in some way while doing so. If anyone else damaged your vehicle, you’d expect to be able to seek compensation. Can you obtain compensation if a police officer does it?
There are many complications, unfortunately. That doesn’t mean you should accept the situation without a reasonable legal fight. Contact Siegfried & Jensen to see how we can help.
How Should Police Officers Treat Your Property?
Most law enforcement officers take an oath of honor that states: “On my honor, I will never betray my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always maintain the highest ethical standards and uphold the values of my community, and the agency I serve.”
A further commitment in the law enforcement code of ethics states that “as a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to… respect the constitutional rights of all…”.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. This amendment was written with the goal of protecting people against unreasonable government intrusions into their privacy.
This oath and code make it seem like all police officers should respect people’s personal property and do their best not to damage it. You might also infer that if the police do damage private property, they will hold themselves accountable.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Whether intentionally or accidentally, police officers damage personal property every day, causing property owners frustration and outrage. To make matters worse, the police rarely cover the expenses of repairing or replacing the personal property they damage.
Do Police Officers Need a Warrant to Search Your Car?
You’ve probably seen many crime drama TV shows and think that police always need a warrant before they can conduct a search. In many cases, that’s true. However, some exceptions apply. For instance, the police can search your car if:
- They receive your permission.
- They have a warrant to arrest someone that they have reason to believe is in your car when they initiate the search or they make the decision to arrest someone during a traffic stop.
- Someone in the car threatens to disrupt the peace and an immediate search of the car is the only way to prevent it.
- They believe that someone in the vehicle is about to suffer or already has suffered serious physical harm and require police intervention to prevent further harm.
- There is a reasonable suspicion that the car contains evidence of a crime or illegal contraband.
- They make an inventory of the vehicle’s contents after impounding it.
- They suspect that the driver or passengers are armed and dangerous.
- There are exigent circumstances.
Cars are mobile, and police officers can’t reasonably expect for drivers to wait patiently for them to obtain a search warrant. However, the law usually prevents officers from making baseless searches.
Don’t Laws Protect You Against Damaging Searches?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many legal protections that protect you. Those in existence have many loopholes, and courts have the ability to determine the legality of a search. Most of the time, courts deem officer actions as reasonable under the circumstances, meaning that the officer and the police force they’re a member of don’t have to compensate you for the damage they cause.
What Is Qualified Immunity?
The Governmental Immunity Act of Utah states that “each governmental entity and each employee of a governmental entity are immune from suit for any injury that results from the exercise of a governmental function.”
Qualified immunity protects law enforcement officers and other officials against individual liability. Exceptions are made if the officer violates a person’s clearly established constitutional right, and therein lies the problem. Officers and courts typically have a loose interpretation of constitutional rights when it comes to things like damaging property during a search.
Do You Have Any Recourse?
If law enforcement officers damaged your car or personal belongings in your car, you can file a claim requesting reimbursement. With the odds already stacked against you, you’ll benefit from hiring a knowledgeable attorney to help you.
As if your legal battle for compensation isn’t already complicated enough, you also have to deal with strict regulations that govern bringing any type of claim or lawsuit against a government employee or agency. If you don’t follow the procedures correctly, you will likely lose the opportunity to seek compensation.
If you can prove that the police were negligent or intentionally damaged your car or belongings, you’ll have a better chance of obtaining compensation. Knowing that it happened is one thing, but gathering sufficient evidence to prove it is likely challenging.
How Can an Attorney Help You?
Most people are intimidated when thinking about accusing the government or government officials, like police officers, of wrongdoing. These claims can indeed be problematic, even if you have valid grounds. However, a competent attorney understands the applicable laws, requirements, and procedures necessary to build a strong case.
If police damaged your car during a search, contact Siegfried & Jensen. We will assess your claim to see how we can help you. We’ll need to perform an in-depth investigation to determine if the officer had sufficient grounds to conduct the search. We’ll look at things like:
- Whether or not you granted permission
- If the officer had probable cause
- The kind of damage the officer caused
- If the damage was accidental or intentional
- What actions caused the damage
- The extent of the damage and repair costs
- Any video recordings of the search
Once we’ve gathered evidence and built your case, we’ll follow the correct procedures to file your claim. We will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.
Why Should You Choose Siegfried & Jensen?
Our firm has helped those in Utah and surrounding states since 1990. We believe that wrongdoers should be held accountable for their actions. Siegfried & Jensen has won over $1.2 billion for our clients in a wide variety of personal injury cases, and we’d like the opportunity to win compensation for you too. You won’t pay anything out of pocket when you hire us; you’ll only owe us if we win.
You can contact us 24/7 to request a free case review. With offices in Ogden, Orem, Salt Lake City, and St. George, we are conveniently located to serve you. Call us at (801) 845-9000 or submit our online contact form today. We promise that you’ll be glad you contacted us.