Qualified Immunity Here to Stay? Maybe not!
Qualified immunity (QI) has been the subject of heated debate in this country for years, never more than in 2020 as the public has reacted with disgust to blatant acts of police misconduct. It’s worth revisiting the legal implications, the reality, and the future of the doctrine now.
In 1982 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that when government officials are in the process of carrying out their duties, they are allowed to use discretion and should be protected from civil liabilities as long as their actions are in compliance with established constitutional rights and/or statutory practice. The idea was that government officials, including police officers, are often in situations requiring split-second decision making, and trying to make judgments in hindsight about the efficacy of those decisions would impair officers’ ability to perform their duties.
In practice, we’ve seen time and again that qualified immunity protects officers when they are involved in revolting and ghastly behaviors. The George Floyd and Breonna Taylor incidents, to name a few, are perfect examples of instances where the protections afforded police by qualified immunity overstep basic human decency.
Lower courts have consistently upheld protections to law enforcement under qualified immunity doctrines, and the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a number of cases on the subject in June 2020. Some might believe that leaves opponents to QI in the lurch. But there are other pathways to relief!
- At the federal level, democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation that would eliminate the use of QI defenses in civil rights cases for state officials.
- State officials in Colorado enacted legislation barring the use of qualified immunity in the defense of officers and other state employees in June of 2020. It also made police officers personally liable for five percent of any damages assessed, up to $25,000. Local leaders will be left to determine whether or not officers acted in good faith, which would result in the five percent rule. The first case testing the new law is on the docket right now.
- State lawmakers in Nevada will be meeting in February 2021 and will have the opportunity to discuss qualified immunity and potential reforms. Will they have the courage to enact legislation that protects officers from nuisance claims while at the same time protecting the public from gross violations of constitutional rights? They have the ability to do so on a state level. Will they?
And Justice for All
At Lobo Law, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys aim to protect the rights of citizens in the community. As proponents for equity and transparency push for legislative action, we fight for justice every single day. If your rights have been violated, contact our office for a confidential consultation today.