No person has the right to deprive another person of his/her civil rights under color of any law. The term “under color of any law,” means “under pretense of law.” 18 U.S.C. § 242 prohibits and also prescribes punishment for those who deprive another person of his/her rights under color of any law of the United States.
By virtue of 18 U.S.C. § 242, whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any state, territory, or district to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments or penalties, only because of the reason that such person is an alien, or is of a particular color or race, is subject to be fined or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Furthermore, 18 U.S.C. § 242 provides greater punishment to offenders if their acts result in bodily injury or death, or involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of dangerous weapons, fire, or explosives, or kidnapping.
It is evident that 18 U.S.C. § 242 provides punishment for two different offenses: (1) willfully subjecting any person to the deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Federal Constitution or laws; and (2) willfully subjecting any such person to different punishments, on account of his/her race or color, from those prescribed for the punishment of citizens.
For an offense to be committed under 18 U.S.C. § 242 the following elements are to be satisfied:
- a person’s acts must have deprived another person of a right secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States;
- the person must have committed the act under color of law;
- the other person, whose rights have been deprived, must have been present in any state, territory, or district within the United States; and
- the person must have acted willfully to deprive the other person of his /her rights.
18 U.S.C. § 242 generally applies to the action of federal officers taken under color of federal law. However, the statute also applies against all acts by state agents, and private individuals acting in consort with such federal officers. All people residing within the United States, including aliens who have illegally entered the country, are entitled to the protection provided by 18 U.S.C. § 242.