Protecting Against Police Brutality and Official Misconduct
Brennan Center
Apr 29, 2021

The Brennan Center for Justice reports:

“Protecting Against Police Brutality and Official Misconduct, which analyzes why 18 U.S.C. § 242 (Section 242 of the federal criminal code) makes it is so difficult to prosecute police and corrections officers who engage in civil rights violations and includes detailed recommendations for Congress to enact a more robust statutory framework to protect the constitutional rights of people who come into contact with public officials, including those who are being arrested or are in custody. It also includes a detailed annotated statutory appendix that may be helpful in analyzing the issues, advocacy, and conversations with lawmakers.


The proposal recommends that Congress add a new subsection to Section 242 or a new section to the federal criminal code that would change the way federal criminal civil rights violations are prosecuted. This proposal would clarify what actions by law enforcement and public officials violate a person’s rights in three key areas:


  • Use of excessive force, including firearms, chokeholds, neck restraints, and other neck holds
  • Abuse of one’s position, power, or authority to engage in sexual activity
  • Deliberate failure to provide medical treatment to people in custody


The new law would also include a lower standard of intent in criminal civil rights cases as compared to current law – requiring proof that the accused acted “knowingly or recklessly,” but not requiring proof that an official “willfully” violated a person’s rights.


We hope this report will assist advocates and policymakers to develop legislation that underscores our national commitment to civil rights by more forcefully prohibiting official misconduct.”



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