During a protest concerning the case of Trayvon Martin in July of 2013, an independent journalist was cited for jaywalking. What he soon realized was that the law enforcement officials in Oakland, where the protest took place, seem to have had another motive in mind besides following the law, they were attempting to detain him so that he could not document the events of the protest. Although Oakland police maintain, even now, that they wrote a jaywalking ticket for the journalist simply because he was jaywalking, the city of Oakland has recently agreed to fork over $9,500, settling the journalist’s civil suit. The ticket was long ago thrown out in traffic court and the journalist argued that the real motivation for the ticket was not only to detain him illegally, but to improperly gather information concerning the protests. Furthermore, the journalist in question is well known for having frequently reported on police injustice in the Oakland Police Department.
Civil suits like the one described above are one way that the citizens of California can exercise their rights. Of course, there are limits. A person simply cannot sue the city or police force for anything they choose. You must discover whether or not you have the right to sue and this varies from situation to situation. In legal jargon, this is called having ‘standing’ to file a suit. It means that you must have been directly affected by whatever it is that you are suing about. In the case of the journalist, for example, the jaywalking ticket directly affected him because he was handcuffed, illegally detained by law enforcement, and asked questions that did not pertain to his having jaywalked. In most cases, you will need to solicit the assistance of an attorney so as to assure that you are following not only the Code of Civil Procedure, but also the California Rules of Court and whatever rules your local court has set forth. For individuals who feel that their civil rights have been trampled upon or who want to make a statement against a particular law enforcement agency, filing a civil suit is one way to find remedy.
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