Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government officials from being sued in federal court. The Supreme Court has held that qualified immunity is an important safeguard for all citizens because it protects them from personal liability and the burden of litigation. In addition, it prevents government officials from being distracted by lawsuits while they are performing their duties and allows them to rely on the advice of their counsel without worrying about facing personal liability for their actions at some future time. However, we believe that qualified immunity does more harm than good by distorting incentives for police officers, causing unnecessary harm to civilians who come into contact with police officers, and reducing accountability for bad behavior on both sides of the badge.
Qualified immunity is a judicially created legal doctrine that affords government officials protection from liability for damages in civil lawsuits arising out of their official conduct.
The scope of the problem has been widely debated among legal scholars and policymakers, but it's generally accepted that qualified immunity is a significant problem.
Qualified immunity affects citizens ability to protect against excessive force from law enforcement agents.
The Problem with Qualified Immunity
The problem with qualified immunity is that it is meant to protect government officials from having to defend themselves in court. The theory behind this doctrine is that if you were a government official, you wouldn't want someone suing you for doing your job. Even if what you did was wrong, or even illegal, being sued for damages would be costly and distracting for both the government official and his or her employer.
The Supreme Court has held that qualified immunity should protect government officials unless their actions violated “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights” at the time they took them (thereby making it easy to determine whether someone acted unlawfully).
However, courts have been expanding the reach of this doctrine by continually finding new ways to say what “clearly established” means. Now there are some areas where an officer may have violated your rights, but because there wasn't clear legal guidance on whether those acts were lawful, no one can sue him—even though he violated your rights!
A Brief History of Qualified Immunity
Qualified immunity was first recognized in the 1970s, when the Supreme Court ruled that police officers who were sued for violating the civil rights of a citizen could not be held liable if their actions were "objectively reasonable." This was a huge win for police officers and other public servants at all levels of government, as it greatly reduced their exposure to lawsuits.
The Constitutional Validity of Qualified Immunity
The Supreme Court has held that qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The Court has further clarified that this protection extends even to "a mistake of law, fact, or judgment."
In federal court, a plaintiff can defeat qualified immunity by showing (1) that their constitutional rights were violated and (2) that the official's conduct did not fall within an exception to the rule. This means that even if you could prove your case against a public official who denies having violated your rights, they will not be held liable unless they fall into one of these exceptions:
They violated clearly established law
Their actions were objectively unreasonable given all of the circumstances at hand before them at the time they made those decisions
Reducing or Eliminating Qualified Immunity
Understanding the problem and how it's caused:
The first step in reducing or eliminating qualified immunity is to understand the problem. The second step is to understand the constitutional basis for qualified immunity. The third step is to understand how qualified immunity is applied in practice.
Alternatives to the Status Quo
- Reduce the scope of qualified immunity.
- Limit qualified immunity to situations where it is absolutely necessary.
- Eliminate qualified immunity for unreasonable and excessive force altogether.
With qualified immunity, police officers who break the law are protected from civil suits. This means that citizens are unable to hold police officers accountable for their actions and cannot receive fair compensation when a cop uses excessive force or violates their rights.
The system is unfair, unjust, and needs to be eliminated. Police officers should not have protection from being held accountable for breaking the law. The public deserves better than this; we need to eliminate qualified immunity and ensure that police officers are held accountable for their actions just like everyone else in society.
We believe that it is in the interest of both police officers and citizens to do away with qualified immunity.
We believe that it is in the interest of both police officers and citizens to do away with qualified immunity. Police officers should be held accountable for their actions and citizens should not lose their rights because of their race or the color of their skin.
Qualified immunity should not be granted to officers who violate the law or engage in misconduct. As discussed above, there are several ways to reduce or eliminate qualified immunity, and we think these alternatives should be explored before any decision is made about whether or not this doctrine should continue to exist in its current form.
Want to learn more? Contact Us today!