Legal abuse refers to abuses associated with both civil and criminal legal action. Abuse can originate from nearly any part of the legal system, including frivolous and vexatious litigants, abuses by law enforcement, incompetent, careless or corrupt attorneys and misconduct from the judiciary itself.
Abuses can originate from virtually every part of the legal system. Litigants, attorneys, law enforcement and judiciary can abuse the system, sometimes accidentally but more often intentionally. Legal abuse can also be systemic, such as when the principles, processes, and consequences of law itself encourage and enable individuals to legally harm others.
Abusive litigants in civil cases are most often classified as vexatious litigation, frivolous litigation, or both. A vexatious litigant seeks to harass or subdue an adversary. A frivolous litigant starts or carries on actions that have little or no merit and are very unlikely to be won. Litigants of this sort are often unable to find representation willing to accommodate them and thus must represent themselves in propria persona.
There can often be considerable overlap between these two types of abuse. One case in point is the strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), which is a lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by fear, intimidation and burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such actions are self-evidently vexatious, but are typically frivolous as well in that the plaintiff does not expect, or even intend, to win.
Litigants can abuse the system in criminal ways as well. Some of the forms of criminal legal system abuse are jury tampering, the practice of directing enticements or threats to jurors in order to influence their deliberations, and falsification of evidence, which refers to any of a variety of ways evidence is improperly manipulated. One particular case of falsifying evidence is the frameup, a chiefly American term for the manufacture or manipulation of evidence for the purpose of indicating the guilt of an innocent party.
Law enforcement abuse
There are a plethora of ways that police and law enforcement can undermine the rights of citizens. Sometimes such abuses are unintentional, brought about by circumstance, imperfect understanding of some subtlety of law, or other kinds of good-faith mistakes. In other cases rights are abused deliberately, due to prejudice, self-interest, vigilantism, impaired value judgment, conflicts of interest or corruption. Such police misconduct can take many forms, among them false arrest, harassment, police brutality, falsification of evidence, coercion and in rare cases, torture and false imprisonment.
Lawyers, paralegals and other professionals involved in legal advocacy can abuse the system in a number of ways. In some cases, representation may well-intended but nonetheless incompetent. In others, lawyers engage in misconduct in an effort to gain unfair advantage for their clients or in pursuit of some self-interest.
Consequences of abuse
Although the primary consequence of unaddressed legal-system abuse for victims is injustice, abuses of the legal system inflict harm in many other ways. Civil litigation and criminal defense of the innocent impose psychological stress, often severe, upon the parties involved. Often such stress will affect physical health as well. When the system is abused and justice is denied as a result, stress and its effects can be exacerbated enormously. Karin P. Huffer, M.S., M.F.T. hypothesized the condition Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS) as a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by ethical violation, legal abuse, betrayal, abuse of power, abuse of authority, lack of accountability and fraud.
Chronic and high-profile legal abuse have societal effects as well, including distrust of the law, law enforcement and the legal system, rationalization of small crimes by ordinarily honest citizens, and psychological stress.
- Abuse of process
- Attorney misconduct
- Bullying in the legal profession
- Abuse of discretion
- False accusations
- False arrest
- Gaming the system
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- Jurisdictional arbitrage
- Kangaroo court
- Legal malpractice
- Legal opportunism
- Legal technicality
- Letter and spirit of the law
- Malicious prosecution
- Miscarriage of justice
- Professional responsibility
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- Recklessness (law)
- Sharp practice
- Show trial
- Strategic lawsuit against public participation
- Summary judgment
- Therapeutic jurisprudence
- Vexatious litigation
- Chance, Randal P. (2004). RAPED by the STATE: Fractured Justice - Legal Abuse. AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4140-5005-8.
- Colombo, R. (2010). Fight Back Legal Abuse: How to Protect Yourself From Your Own Attorney. Morgan James Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60037-709-9.
- Huffer, Karin (June 1995). Legal Abuse Syndrome. Karin Huffer. ISBN 0-9641786-0-5.
- Huffer, Karin (1995). Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome. Karin Huffer. ISBN 978-0-9641786-0-1.