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What is Official Misconduct?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Official misconduct is a type of crime a public servant may commit. To be guilty of this crime, the public servant must perform actions for which he is not authorized or fail to perform other acts that the law or his job requires of him. The public servant’s actions must also benefit him or someone else he knows or harm another party or group to be considered misconduct. This harm can include the deprivation of a benefit, right, or service.

An example of official misconduct could be a police officer who has arrested an individual and knows he has a serious wound that needs treatment. Instead of ensuring the arrested individual receives treatment, he may detain him and refuse medical care in order to question him or leverage a confession. As another example, an elected official could require city employees to assist with the renovation of his property. Since this act would be beyond his authority and benefit him, it could be considered official misconduct.

In many places, any public servant can be charged with official misconduct. This includes individuals who are elected by the public, such as mayors, congressmen, and superintendents, as well as those who are government employees. Typically, a charge of official misconduct can be levied without regard to the branch of the government that employs the accused.

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In order for a person to be convicted of official misconduct, a prosecutor must be able to prove that he engaged in the criminal activity. In many jurisdictions, the prosecution must prove not only that the public servant committed unauthorized acts, but also that the accused knew his acts were unauthorized. Additionally, the acts the public servant is accused of must generally be related to his official duties.

If a public servant is accused of official misconduct because he refrained from a required duty, the prosecution must prove that he failed to perform an act or task the law or the nature of his job required. A lapse in good judgment, however, would not be considered official misconduct. Instead, official misconduct charges are handed down when the accused knew he had a duty to act but willfully failed to do so.

A prosecutor normally must also prove that either benefit or harm resulted from the public servant’s actions. This means the accused party acted in an unauthorized manner to benefit himself or another person. The benefit can be a monetary or non-monetary advantage. Likewise, if harm has occurred, the prosecution generally must prove that the party's actions, or failure to act, were intentional and meant to harm another person by injuring him or causing him to lose an advantage, right, or benefit.

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