When you lose someone at the hands of law enforcement, you feel betrayed. You may experience anger, resentment, and want to change what happened. While you cannot turn back time, you can seek compensation, hold the police accountable, and get justice for your loved one.

Whether a police officer directly contributed to their death, or the officer was negligent which led to your loved one’s death, it’s equally painful. You shouldn’t have to suffer more than you already are, because someone who was supposed to protect them, didn’t. If someone you loved died in police custody, you may be able to recover damages for you and your loved one.

What Rights Do People in Police Custody Have?

When police detain people in custody, they may lose some rights, but they still have rights. According to the Eighth Amendment, while in custody, police officers and other parties should not subject detainees to excessive bail, fines, and cruel or unusual punishments. It is important to know what police custody actually means, police custody includes:

  • Process of detaining a person
  • During the process of arrest
  • On the way to a correctional or detention facility
  • Incarceration

In addition to the Eighth Amendment, the law also requires police to read people their Miranda rights as they arrest someone. Detainees have these rights as a result of the famous case Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda rights include the following rights:

  • Right to remain silent 
  • Any statements a person makes can and will be used against them in a court of law
  • Right to an attorney
  • If the person cannot afford a lawyer, the government will provide one for them

People in police custody have the right to medical care basic necessities such as food, water, and psychological assistance. If the facility does not provide these things or refuses to, you may have a valid wrongful death case. 

What Are the Most Common Ways People Die in Custody in Arizona?

While there are various ways people in custody can die, the most common cause of death in police custody in Arizona is homicide by police. The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s deaths in custody data show that from 2016 to 2020, police were responsible for 76% of detainees’ deaths, the majority of officers using their guns. Other causes of death in custody can include:

  • Alcohol or Drug Intoxication
  • Suicide 
  • Illness or Natural death
  • Excessive use of tasers or pepper spray
  • Lack of/low-quality medical attention

The rest of the deaths in Arizona custody are termed as other or unreported so the causes are not specified. The causes of death listed above, including homicide by officer, can all be grounds for a wrongful death in custody case because there is a possibility of negligence in each case. 


For example, if an officer could have prevented your loved one’s death or they used excessive force, you may have an eligible case. Anything that shows negligence or force on the part of the police officers or facility can be valuable evidence for your claim.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is lengthy enough to allow you to grieve your loss and still file a claim. From the day of your loved one’s death, you have two years to file a wrongful death claim. If you file after the two years have passed, your settlement amount will be lower, or you may not get one at all.

Although it’s best to file your claim as soon as possible, we understand the painful circumstances you are in, so it’s okay to wait a bit. Since it’s a wrongful death case, the defendant’s lawyer may be less likely to look negatively at the fact that you waited to file, because you are grieving.

When you file your claim shortly after the person’s death, it increases the chances of winning your case and the amount of settlement you could receive. It also ensures that evidence and your memory of what happened are the most accurate. 

Who Can I Hold Accountable for a Death in Custody?

If someone you loved died in custody, you can hold police officers, the police department, and the correctional facility accountable. If a specific officer used force on your loved one that led to their death, you can file a claim against a police officer. The police department may also be responsible if it failed to take action after supervisors witnessed the officer’s force. 

In the claim you will have to explain the actions that led to the person’s death, the duty of care the party or parties should have provided and the compensation you would like to receive. According to A.R.S. § 12-612 immediate family members can file a wrongful death claim. 

If no family members survive, a personal representative can file a claim on behalf of the person’s estate. 

The Damages You Can Recover for Your Loved One’s Death

You deserve justice for your loved one’s death and for yourself. In wrongful death cases, you can often receive compensation for yourself and your loved one. The reason for this is that the death of someone you love also affects you and has caused a disruption in your life. 

Depending on the details of your case, you may be able to recover damages such as:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses as a result of your loved one’s incarceration
  • Your and your loved one’s pain and suffering
  • Any property damage that occurred because of the custody
  • Excessive fines your loved one received at the time of their incarceration 

Sometimes there are other damages that correctional facilities and police officers don’t mention or want you to know about, but we are dedicated to finding all the damages you can receive. We will investigate your case thoroughly to determine which ones you qualify for. 

How We Can Help You with Your Death in Custody Case in Tucson, Arizona

We know that nothing can fill the vacancy your loved one’s death has left in your life. But if we can help you get compensation that can help you pay expenses related to your loved one’s death and other personal expenses, we hope it at least relieves some of your stress. At Zanes Law, we care about you and we are ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.

Call us or fill out the form on our contact us page to begin your free case evaluation today. We’ll review your case and contact you about the next steps toward justice for you and your loved one.

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