When Can Police Use Force During an Arrest in Massachusetts?

Police Force Arrest

March 03, 2023 by Anthony Riccio

When police are called to a home, whether for a wellness check, to find someone suspected of a crime, or to respond to a domestic violence call, they are often uncertain what they are going to face when they get to the scene. However, a suspect or a victim may also run the risk of facing police officers who use force during an arrest.

A recent news story regarding a domestic violence suspect in Newton highlights just what type of contradiction arises when a suspect and police officers tell different versions of the same story and also brings our attention to the possibility of a police officer using force during an arrest in Massachusetts.

Legal Requirements For Police Use Of Force in Massachusetts

In recent years, Massachusetts has responded to police use of force complaints by providing additional guidance for when use of force may be warranted. However, there are specific legal requirements for when a police officer may use force when attempting to arrest a suspect. They are:

  • When attempts have been made to deescalate the situation and have failed
  • When de-escalation attempts are unfeasible due to the situation at the time
  • When attempts to restrain, or gain control of a suspect have been unsuccessful

These legal requirements are explained further in 555 CMR 6.00: M.G.L. c. 6E, § 15(d).  These legal requirements provide a guideline for police officers.

Examples of Excessive Force by Police Officers

Excessive force is a term which is not clear to most of us. For legal purposes the following are examples of excessive force by a police officer:

  • The use of a baton which results in assault of a suspect
  • The use of a taser when it is not warranted
  • Assaulting a suspect who is in custody including being handcuffed
  • The use of or drawing of a service weapon on a suspect
  • Using K9s for crowd control or to intimidate a suspect
  • Pinning a suspect to the ground once they are handcuffed

Police officers are not allowed to stand by and watch another officer use force upon a suspect when they know that it violates one of these standards. These can be considered clear violations of the rights of a suspect, regardless of the charges which they may be facing.

It is also important to remember that in many cases, police are protected by a doctrine known as qualified immunity. In effect this prevents a police officer, or other government official from being held liable for use of force.  Qualified immunity does not protect an officer from the consequences of unlawful conduct, however.

Potential Criminal Penalties for Unlawful Police Conduct

When a police officer violates the rights of a suspect, the suspect has the right to file a civil claim against the officer. In these cases, an internal investigation is launched and if the results of the investigation are that the officer violated the rights of a person by using force, then the officer may face potential legal penalties. The District Attorney may then pursue charges against the officer who would then face state or federal criminal penalties which may include:

  • Fines
  • Jail time

These criminal penalties may also be accompanied by other penalties which include loss of pensions or other benefits which are afforded to law enforcement officers upon their separation of service. The legal penalties would depend largely upon whether the charges the police officer was facing were misdemeanors or felonies which would be dependent upon the District Attorney’s findings in a case.

An assault charge could result in prison time of up to two and a half years. An assault which results in serious bodily injury could mean a police officer is facing up to five  years in state prison and $5,000 fine. Serious bodily injury would be considered an injury in which the victim suffered a disfigurement, loss of body function, or when there was a risk that the victim could have died as a result of their injuries.

Depending upon the circumstances of the force, the police officer may also be facing federal charges. These charges would be the result of a complaint filed through the Justice Department by either the complainant or as a result of the case being referred to the Justice Department by the District Attorney.

What To Do If You Believe You Have Been Subject To Excessive Police Force

Facing potential arrest is frightening and it is common for someone to have an initial negative reaction. However, most people understand that if they are presented with a warrant, or if a police officer gives them a specific direction, they must follow it or be subject to additional charges including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Even when a suspect follows a police officer’s instructions to the letter, it does not guarantee the officer will not violate their civil rights and use excessive force to gain control of them for the purposes of an arrest. In these cases, a person should contact a police misconduct lawyer right away and explain they believe they have been a victim of excessive police force.

Criminal defense lawyers are attorneys who represent criminal defendants. In most cases, these attorneys are also well-positioned to handle cases of excessive force against a defendant. These attorneys are well-versed in civil rights matters because too often, defendants’ rights are violated during an arrest.

Victims of Excessive Police Force Need an Advocate

Police Arrest Law

If someone believes their rights have been violated by a police officer, including the police officer using excessive force during an arrest, traffic stop, or service of a warrant, the victim should seek immediate legal advice. This is the best way to determine if there is sufficient reason to file a complaint with the law enforcement officers Internal Affairs Division. Every case of excessive force should be investigated to ensure that an officer who has engaged in this type of behavior is held accountable for their actions.

Everyone understands that police face untold hazards every day. However, this is not a reason to violate the civil rights of a suspect of a crime, or anyone who the officer stops for a traffic violation. Call Riccio Law at 617-404-8878 to schedule a free consultation.