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Tom Pugh March 5, 2020

While there are many different civil rights claims, some share common attributes. An important thing to know is that civil rights claims in Kentucky have a one-year statute of limitations on all claims. There is a set of civil rights claims that are usually intertwined with one another and causes some confusion. Those claims are wrongful arrest, unlawful search and seizure, unlawful entry into a home (a subset of unlawful search and seizure), unlawful pretrial detention, and malicious prosecution.

Claims for wrongful arrest, unlawful search and seizure, unlawful entry into a home, unlawful pretrial detention, and malicious prosecution are found under 42 USC § 1983. You have one year to bring a claim for violation of your civil rights, running one year from the date of the violation. That means that if your violation occurred on October 19, 2019, you would need to file no later than October 18, 2020. If you were to bring this case to an attorney on October 18, 2020, they would likely reject your case because they do not have enough time to evaluate your case. For the wrongful arrest, search and seizure, unlawful entry, and unlawful pretrial detention, it runs one year from the date of your arrest or search, depending on if you were arrested at the same time of an unlawful search. Some people get unlawfully arrested, but not searched. Some people get unlawfully searched, but do not get arrested for several days later. So there are different triggers for the statute of limitations and you must be aware of those triggers, which is basically: when did the specific violation occur?

For the malicious prosecution claim, it runs one year from the date the case terminates in your favor, which means you have to win or the case is dismissed. So even if your case does not resolve in your favor, and you have been unlawfully arrested and/or searched, you would need to bring the wrongful arrest and unlawful search claim prior to the one year anniversary of your arrest and unlawful search. The malicious prosecution claim begins when the charges are dropped against you, or you win at trial, and you do not stipulate to probable cause. A lack of probable cause is necessary for malicious prosecution, as well as the wrongful arrest and search.

Probable cause is a very low standard, and the police can sometimes still arrest you, even though they have the wrong information. Probable cause is defined as reasonable grounds for belief, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion. Determining if probable cause exists requires an examination of the "totality of the circumstances and whether the facts and circumstances of which [an officer] had knowledge at the moment of the arrest were sufficient to warrant a prudent person . . . in believing . . . that the seized individual had committed . . . an offense."

Unlawful entry is an important claim to remember, because the constitution holds the home in a high state of importance. “It is a ‘basic principle of Fourth Amendment law’ that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980). “[T]he physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.” Id. (quoting United States v. U.S. Dist. Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972)). A government official may knock on a person's front door and try to initiate a consensual entry. Coffey v. Carroll, 933 F.3d 577, 585 (6th Cir. 2019); See United States v. Thomas, 430 F.3d 274, 277 (6th Cir. 2005). But absent consent, and in the absence of a warrant or exigent circumstances, the Fourth Amendment prohibits the official from entering the home. Coffey, 933 F.3d at 585; citing Cummings v. City of Akron, 418 F.3d 676, 685 (6th Cir. 2005). The Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house and the threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant or exigent circumstances. Kirk v. Louisiana, 536 U.S. 635, 638 (2002).

So whether a warrant is based on probable cause is the first question. Then, did they have consent? "Stepping back in fear is not consent." It has to be clear consent was given to the police. Then, last, were there exigent circumstances? “Exigent circumstances are situations where real, immediate, and serious consequences will certainly occur if the police officer postpones action to obtain a warrant.” Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244, 253 (6th Cir. 2003). There are four recognized situations where exigent circumstances allow a warrantless entry: “(1) hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, (2) imminent destruction of evidence, (3) the need to prevent a suspect’s escape, and (4) a risk of danger to the police or others.” United States v. Rohrig, 98 F.3d 1506, 1515 (6th Cir. 1996).

Obviously, all of these claims are very complex to analyze, which is why you should go to an attorney immediately after you believe your constitutional rights have been violated. Public defenders are attorneys, but they are not allowed to advise you of what your options are for a civil rights claim. Public defenders can only advise you on the criminal consequences and what the best course of action. We know many public defenders and the ones we know are exceptional attorneys. Still, you should consult with a private attorney regarding civil rights violations, and a private attorney can work with the public defender to ensure the best possible outcome for you. In some instances, a plea deal where you stipulate to probable cause and the prosecutor dismisses the charges may be in your best interest. But it also means that the claims discussed in this blog will likely fail, since you agreed there was probable cause.

Now, this blog deals primarily with Kentucky based civil rights claims, where the statute of limitations is one year. For Ohio, the basic law is the same as outlined above, BUT there is a two-year statute of limitations in Ohio for civil rights violations that occur in Ohio. That does not mean you should wait that long to talk to an attorney, whether you are in Ohio or Kentucky. Investigating a civil rights claim take time, but witnesses disappear, memories fade, and camera footage can be deleted. So you should always contact a civil rights attorney immediately after you believe your civil rights have been violated. Video footage is very important, but footage from a dash camera in a police cruiser, body camera footage, or security camera footage from a private entity is usually deleted very soon after the event. A civil rights attorney can work fast to make sure that camera footage is saved, especially when it is essential to your case.

We hope this helps and feel free to contact us if you need any legal advice.