Legal Definition of Under Color Of State Law
To act "under color of state law" means to act beyond the bounds of lawful authority.2 min read
What Is the Legal Definition of Under Color of State of Law?
Covers not only acts done by an official under a State law, but also acts done by an official under any ordinance of a county or municipality of the State, as well as acts done under any regulation issued by any State or County or Municipal official, and even acts done by an official under color of some State or local custom.
To act "under color of state law" means to act beyond the bounds of lawful authority, but in such a manner that the unlawful acts were done while the official was purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his official duties. In other words, the unlawful acts must consist of an abuse or misuse of power which is possessed by the official only because he is an official.
When can a Person Be Found Guilty of Under Color of State Law?
A person may be found guilty even though he was not an official or employee of the State, or of any county, city, or other governmental unit if the essential elements of the offense charged have been established and the person was a willful participant with the state or its agents in the doing of such acts.
"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 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)
What Happens When a Person Is Found Guilty of Under Color of State Law?
"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 U.S.C. S 1983 (1988).