Redefining Qualified Immunity

 Redefining Qualified Immunity

The Problem: The U.S. court system established the doctrine of qualified immunity in 1967 to protect government employees “acting in good faith.” It was claimed that qualified immunity would allow police officers to do their job effectively, including making split-second, life-or-death decisions without fear of frivolous lawsuits or verdicts based on information not available at the time of action. Over the years, court rulings have greatly expanded qualified immunity, effectively preventing police offers from being held accountable in the court of law1. This immunity potentially incentivizes police abuse by limiting accountability measures, a common perception that has yet to be empirically validated. The exercise of qualified immunity inflates the power of law enforcement and adequately deflects the actions of officers that violate the civil rights of others. This loophole of police accountability often leaves victims of police misconduct with no civil remedy.

Download
 Redefining Qualified Immunity
 Redefining Qualified Immunity

Key Observations

  • Police accountability often leaves victims of police misconduct with no civil remedy.
  • A review of 435 cases of excessive force lawsuits 277 in California and 158 in Texas - shows judges in Texas are more likely to grant immunity to officers who used force against unarmed civilians than judges in California did for officers in cases where civilians were armed.
  • Officers are 3.5 times more likely to have their petitions accepted by the Supreme Court than petitions they receive from civilians, setting a growing trend for America’s highest court to intervene in police brutality cases.
  • Judges in Texas are more likely to “grant immunity to officers who used force against unarmed civilians...”
  • Qualified immunity protections have significantly reduced the ability of law enforcement executives to foster officer accountability and prevent victims of abuse from seeking justice.

 Redefining Qualified Immunity

Recommendations 

We support revising qualified immunity protections for law enforcement to a more finite definition that ensures police officers are held accountable for brutality, civil rights violations, and other illegal conduct. In the spirit of advancing police reform on a national, state, and local scale, CJR recommends the following: 

  • Redefine qualified immunity protections to prioritize protecting civilians from police brutality instead of shielding officers from being charged for injuries and deaths they cause. This is essential to deterring police misconduct and upholding the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of victims of police violence in courts.
  • Enact federal and state legislation to establish common standards for limited qualified immunity provisions. State legislatures should not wait on federal action to enact reforms needed in their communities.
  • Utilize independent prosecutors in all police investigations in order for officer misconduct to be objectively reviewed and held accountable, where necessary. 
  • Enhance education and training within police agencies to ensure that officers have the knowledge, skills, and tools to respond appropriately in carrying out their duties without violating the civil rights of those they aim to protect.
 Redefining Qualified Immunity
 Redefining Qualified Immunity

Read the full report

Download