What Is a Consent Decree?

What Is a Consent Decree?

The Justice Department uses a “consent decree” as a kind of unappealable compromise that the government uses to make an entity obey the law. When the defendant agrees to not repeat the crime, they are agreeing to the terms of the consent decree. In exchange, the government agrees not to apply criminal charges to the defendant.

One example of when the Justice Department uses a consent decree is in the case of state and local police department misconduct. A consent decree is often used to address police departments with a history of civil rights abuses. In this case, it is intended to resolve disagreements between the federal government and state or local government without anyone admitting wrongdoing.

Virgin Islands Police Department’s Use of Force

The U.S. Virgin Islands is an incorporated territory, not a state, but it is a part of the United States and, as such, is subject to Justice Department consent decrees. In 2004, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department started investigating police misconduct in the Virgin Islands. In 2005, an official letter was issued to that police department, stating that it must change its policies and training regarding its use of force. Importantly, the letter required the Virgin Islands Police Department to establish:

  • A system for the public to report incidents of police misconduct
  • A system to report internal (interdepartmental) complaints of police misconduct
  • An investigation and review policy for reported incidents of police misconduct
  • Improved conditions for jails, holding cells, etc. in the police station
  • A system for disciplining police officers found to be guilty of misconduct after an investigation and review

In 2009, the Justice Department and the Virgin Islands Police Department agreed to a court-enforced consent decree that is still in place. Gradually, the police department implemented the required changes and now has an official use-of-force policy. In 2018, a federal district court evaluated the Virgin Islands Police Department’s efforts and stated that it had achieved significant compliance with the consent decree.

More Change Is Needed

Despite the successful compliance with the consent decree, the Virgin Islands Police Department still has problems to resolve. One important issue is police brutality against prisoners in jails. For example, a prisoner at the Criminal Justice Complex in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas reported a cockroach in his food to a corrections officer, and in response, the officer choked him, almost to unconsciousness. After the jail executed an investigation of the incident, the prisoner was found to be truthful, and the corrections officer was found guilty of police brutality and to have lied about it. But the corrections officer was not disciplined, no criminal charges were laid,  and the officer remained in his position at the Criminal Justice Complex. 

For more information about your rights or for help with reporting police brutality, contact a lawyer with extensive experience with helping victims of police misconduct.

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