One of the most difficult legal aspects for people to deal with after there is a clear case of police brutality is that law enforcement rarely feels any consequences. While there have been some officers who have been fired and a few who have been put in jail, there are still many that never have any repercussions for their actions. Qualified immunity is not a law, but more of a judicial precedence set by Supreme Court rulings. People who commit no crime end up with little help if they or their home suffer from overzealous actions of public safety officers.
Qualified immunity is not a law, but more of a judicial precedence set by Supreme Court rulings. People who commit no crime end up with little help if they or their home suffer from overzealous actions of public safety officers.
Qualified immunity is supposed to be there to protect government employees from frivolous lawsuits for making mistakes doing their job. This means that unless a specific law is broken, a member of law enforcement is protected by the courts with what they do. This means that cops that kill people who never broke the law are protected if there is no law specifically covering the incident. The courts even hold that certain officials are given absolute immunity while they are doing their job. Studies have found it is primarily used in cases it should not and is ineffective.
The start of the process for qualified immunity started with Pierson v. Ray, a 1967 case involving Freedom Riders who got arrested in Jackson, MS. The various members of clergy that were arrested were eventually found innocent via appeals sued the original cops and judge in the arrest. During the civil trials, the judges that were involved ruled that Judge James Spencer held immunity from any civil lawsuit that stems from a ruling on a case. The complete immunity was codified into law from this case and was the start of the arguments for more government official coverage.
Before the 1982 case of Harlow v. Fitzgerald, there were two conditions that had to be met for law enforcement to qualify for qualified immunity. The person had to believe they were acting in a lawful manner and any person would consider the actions reasonable. The courts found it extended the cases in trying to determine subjective issues in these rules. Harlow changed the rules to say that government officials were shielded as long as the actions were legal and reasonable. This means that the courts are finding the actions of many of the cops with these standards.
Many politicians and groups are starting to push back against the qualified immunity that cops are getting, especially when innocent people are killed or put in the middle of dangerous situations. The legislation that has been put before Congress even reached a historic tripartisan status, though it only passed the House of Representatives. The Senate has been stalling the passage, with the Republicans there stopping it. Colorado has already passed laws removing the immunity and other states are working on similar bills. There are several judges that are making their voices heard, with the effort crossing political ideologies.
When looking at the toll of police officers not being held accountable, the names are many and cross many ethnic lines. Johnny Leija was no criminal. The hospital called for assistance when medicine he was given caused him to wander. David Hooks, a respected businessman, had a late night SWAT raid the night after known drug users stole one of his vehicles. The raid was off the word of a known meth addict claiming the drugs in their possession came from the stolen car. These are two of many examples that have brought people to a breaking point.
Qualified immunity is meant to protect people who are in the middle of tough spots and had to make tough decisions. Police officers need some protection, but there are many instances that are seen as excessive that need more light put on them. This is what people are trying to do with the removal of immunity from police officers. Some may need it and it needs to be ascertained how. The debate will keep raging until decisions are made that put public interest ahead of a blanket immunity for all officers, no matter their behavior. This can restore public confidence.
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