Color of Law Crimes – abuse of authority by government employees:

        “Color of law crimes” occur when officers or government employees exceed their Constitutional limits using the appearance or “color” of law: this includes enforcing unconstitutional statutes, codes, ordinances, policies, etc.   Depriving a civilian of their rights (including wrongful evictions, false arrests, & slander) is a both a crime and a tort, and can be tried in both a criminal and civil proceeding.

n. (13c)

1. Appearance, guise, or semblance; especially, the appearance of a legal claim to a right, authority, or office <color of title> <under color of state law>. [1]

1. Mere semblance of a legal right.  State ex rel. West v Des Moines, 96 Iowa 521, 65 NW 818. [2]

1. An apparent legal right; a seeming legal right; the mere semblance of a legal right.  Although they may also refer to activity by private persons, terms such as color of authority, color of law, and color of right generally refer to actions taken by a representative of government (EXAMPLES: a police officer; a civil servant; any public official) which are beyond the authority granted by the law to his position or office, but which appear to be legal because of his official status.  in many circumstances the government will be held responsible for such conduct even though it was unauthorized.  if a deprivation of constitutional rights is involved, such conduct may also violate the Civil Rights Acts. [3]

color of law:

1. The appearance or semblance, without the substance, of a legal right.  The term usually implies a misuse of power made possible because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of the state.  State action is synonymous with color of [state] law in the context of federal civil-rights statutes or criminal law.  See STATE ACTION. [1]

1. Mere semblance of a legal right.  State ex rel. West v Des Moines, 96 Iowa 521, 65 NW 818.

1. An apparent legal right. [3]

color of office:

1. The authority or power that is inherent in an office, especially a public office.  Acts taken under the color of an office are vested with, or appear to be vested with, the authority entrusted to that office. [1]

1. An expression for acts performed by an officer which are entirely outside of or beyond the authority conferred by the office.  Haffner v United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. 35 idaho 517, 207 P 716; Wilson v Fowler, 88 Md 601, 42 A 201. [2]

1. An expression for acts performed by an officer that are outside of the authority conferred by her office. [3]

      Excerpt from Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce’s Criminal Law:

     “The starting point in the law. of bribery seems to have been when a judge, for doing his office or acting under color of his office, took a reward or fee from some person who had occasion to come before him, and apparently guilt attached only to the judge himself and not to the bribe-giver. [4]

color of authority:

1. The appearance or presumption of authority sanctioning a public officer’s actions.  *  The authority derives from the officer’s apparent title to the office or from a writ or other apparently valid process the officer bears. [1]

1. Authority derived from an election or appointment, however irregular or informal, so that the incumbent is not a mere volunteer.  State ex rel. Brockmeier v Ely, 16 ND 569, 113 NW 711. [2]

1. Authority derived from an election or appointment.
     See authority. [3]

Various Types of Typical
Color of Law Crimes

and Corresponding Federal Laws:

Deprivation of rights under color of law 18 U.S.C. § 242 – using a “statute”, “policy”, “ordinance”, or “code” (etc.) to violate a person’s rights using the appearance of law.

false arrest, false imprisonment – restraint, arrest, and/or imprisonment made without a valid warrant, or without probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime.

extortion – the unlawful taking, by an officer,, by color of his office, of any money or thing of value not due to him, or taking more than is due, or taking it before it is due.

perjury and false swearing – lying under Oath of Office, in an Affidavit, in a judicial proceeding or administrative proceeding, or to an insurer.

Crimes Committed by Two or More Persons
(often applicable to color of law crimes):

conspiracy – two or more persons operating in tandem, directly or indirectly, to perform an criminal act using lawful means, or a lawful objective using criminal means. — aka criminal conspiracy.

racketeering – a pattern of illegal activity (i.e. bribery, extortion, fraud, murder) carried out as part of an enterprise owned or controlled by the conspirators.

18 U.S.C. § 2 Aiding & Abettingknowingly & willingly assisting a crime.

Also see:

42 U.S.C. § 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rights


     There are many other types of crimes which could be performed by government officials acting under color of law.  For additional crimes, see

Various Crimes and Corresponding Laws


[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce’s Criminal Law 527 (3d ed. 1982)


Common Law

Admiralty Law

Legal Precepts Adopted into U.S. Law (from Europe) through the Constitution


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