Abuse of Power, Color of Law
Abuse of power by a government official or employee may occur under color of law. Some officials may exceed their authority for personal or political gain, or to feel more important, dominant or powerful, or to seek revenge. Officials sometimes subject a citizen within their jurisdiction to abuse of power by threats or misuse of authority to deprive, or conspire to deprive, the citizen of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.
Use of the color of law for abuse of power may occur at the local, state or national level, by elected or appointed officials, government employees, judges, regulators, or law enforcement, while purporting or pretending to act in the performance of official duties.
The limits of authority are prescribed by statutes, laws, and ordinances, written by a legislature, where the public has an opportunity for input to their elected representatives. Citizens may express support or opposition for proposed legislation by sending letters or email. Citizens may vote for candidates that best represent their community, values and interests. In some cases, elected officials may be recalled from office or impeached.
Rules and regulations, written by a government agency, often have little or no input from the community or citizens. The US Constitution does not empower Congress to delegate legislation to agencies operated by non-elected bureaucrats. An agency may overreach and seek to expand its power and dominion, and abuse of power, under color of law.
Abuse of Power, Federal Law
Several federal laws deal with violations of civil rights. Federal law, 18 USC 242, defines the federal crime of “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law“.
This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.
Punishment varies from a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both. In cases involving bodily injury, or use of a dangerous weapon, fine or imprisonment of up to ten years, or both. In cases involving death, kidnapping, or sexual abuse, fine or imprisonment for any term of years, or for life, or both, or a possible death sentence.
The Conspiracy Against Rights statute, 18 USC 241, makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).
Abuse of Power, Court Cases
Court cases and other laws involving abuse of power under color of law include:
“Acting under color of [state] law is misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.” Thompson v. Zirkle, 2007 US Dist LEXIS 77654 (ND Ind Oct 17, 2007)
“Misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken `under color of’ state law.” United States v. Classic, 313 US 299, 326 (1941)
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .” 42 USC 1983 (1988)
Citizens should read the Constitution and Bill of Rights and know their civil rights. Keep written evidence, photos and videos of violations. Citizens deserve to be served by ethical public officials who administer the law without using color of law to abuse or overstep their lawful authority.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be considered or used as legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed, competent attorney.