Can a US police officer be charged with despotism?

Note: In Germany I heard it is possible

  • 6
    What do you mean by "depotism"; that is not a legally defined term in the US, much less a crime. There are several different flavors of "abuse of power" statues, as well as standard crimes that a US police officer can be charged with.
    – sharur
    May 24, 2021 at 15:48
  • 3
    More details on what is meant by "despotism" would help get a better answer May 24, 2021 at 15:50
  • 1
    Are you translating from the German word “Willkür”? For example, “jemand willkürlich verhaften” could be translated as “to detain someone arbitrarily” (i.e. without legal basis).
    – amon
    May 24, 2021 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


To the best of my knowledge, there is no crime under US law known as "despotism". However, many of the actions that might be called "despotism" are crimes, civil violations, or possibly violations of police regulations. "use of excessive force", "false arrest", "illegal detention",. and "deprivation of civil rights" might apply, as might various other charges or causes of suit.

In particular there is 42 U.S. Code § 1983. Civil action for deprivation of rights often known simply as "section 1983". This provides that:

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, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. ...

This means that if a police officer or other government official takes action based on his or her authority as a police officer or government official that deprives someone of rights, the person deprived can sue the police officer or official in court, and collect damages directly and personally from the officer. This is limited by qualified immunity. That says that is a point of law has not been "clearly established" police can not be sued for violating it. The exact limits of when qualified immunity applies is a complex topic that has been the subject of many legal cases, quite a few decided by the US Supreme Court. The rules have changed over time. But what has not changed is that clear violations of constitutional and statutory rights by the police and others can give grounds for a federal lawsuit against the people who committed such violations.


  • 1
    Note also the availability of criminal charges for civil-rights violations, in which case qualified immunity would not be available.
    – bdb484
    May 24, 2021 at 16:26
  • @bdb484 Correct. I did mention that in the first sentence of the answer., but perhaps I should have gone into more detail. But criminal charges require the authorizes to prosecute, which they often do not when police are the accused. May 24, 2021 at 16:45
  • Many states have a section in their criminal code for official misconduct offenses (see starting at page 424-441 of the linked pdf which is the Colorado criminal code), and special offenses that are versions of regular offenses treated differently when committed by government officials (see page 405 in the linked material for sexual intercourse with prisoners by correctional officials). See law.justia.com/cases/colorado/supreme-court/1989/87sc182-0.html
    – ohwilleke
    May 24, 2021 at 17:36

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