A ‘right’ to qualified immunity?

First, I’d hate to be on the jury in a case to determine if police have a right to qualified immunity.

A ‘right’ to qualified immunity?
Do police have A ‘right’ to qualified immunity?

In the simplest and most basic terms, qualified immunity amounts to a protection that protects police officers from frivolous lawsuits when they are in the performance of their official duties. Qualified immunity is a judicially created legal doctrine that shields government officials performing discretionary duties from civil liability in cases involving the deprivation of statutory or constitutional rights. Government officials are entitled to qualified immunity, so long as their actions do not violate “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known”. The problem is determining where the boundary starts and ends and how to determine if the action is reasonable.

Without some method of shielding officers from being sued for everything they do to accomplish their duties, local governments use the protections of or a right to “qualified immunity”. Bottom line is that officers can’t be sued for things they do in good faith to accomplish their duties.

Think about the guy that’s being arrested for a serious crime and resists arrest by fighting the officer when he tries to apply restraints to the person. The officer is trained in tactics to forcibly control the person until they get cuffs on him. Sometimes 2-3 or more officers are required to restrain a person. Can the person come back and claim that having 3 officers on him is ’overkill’ and one officer should have been able to use their training to overcome the resistance and restrain the offender. It’s rather frivolous for the offender to sue the other officers for assaulting him. The officers were obviously acting in good faith in the performance of their duties by assisting the initial arresting officer. Qualified immunity would protect them from lawsuits.

On the other hand, if the other two officers assisting in the arrest were to be abusive and use tactics that either they were not trained on or that they were trained not to use, should they be protected by this qualified immunity?

Consider the observation when Justice Sonia Sotomayor put it that qualified immunity established “an absolute shield” for police officers accused of using excessive force. That’s not what it was meant to do. What has happened is that local governments have extended this protection because they don’t want to be paying out judgments when their officers abuse their authority, and they don’t want people to stay out of the law enforcement career because they might be sued and don’t have any protection against a lawsuit?

If you think this is an easy task, you are wrong. Attorneys need good investigators that can get to the roots of the problems and find the real details of a case. Contact us if you have questions about how we can help you with your case.

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