Police Misconduct and Release-Dismissal Agreements
33 Criminal Justice 31 (Fall 2018)
10 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2020
Date Written: November 10, 2018
There are numerous barriers to reducing and eliminating police misconduct, especially excessive use of force and other civil rights violations. Some involve prosecutors. One such barrier, is reluctance on the part of local prosecutors to bring charges against police officers the prosecutor works with and relies upon. Another barrier, though, confronts surviving victims of police misconduct seeking relief in civil courts: prosecutorial use of release-dismissal agreements to shield police misconduct. In a release-dismissal agreement, a prosecutor offers to dismiss criminal charges against a person in exchange for the person giving up the right to file a civil lawsuit based on injuries resulting from police misconduct. Under such an agreement, a prosecutor uses criminal charges as leverage to obtain a release of civil claims against a police officer, police department, and municipality.
Use of release-dismissal agreements raises significant legal and ethical issues, which we address in this paper. We begin by analyzing the arguments for and against release-dismissal agreements and the possible scenarios in which a prosecutor may enter into one. We also discuss the legal status of release-dismissal agreements and the ethical issues they raise.
Keywords: ethics, legal ethics, professional responsibility, prosecutor, police, police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K19, K40, K41, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation