Washington, DC – A Michigan congressman introduced legislation on Monday that would end qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, meaning police officers could be personally sued for actions performed in the line of duty.
Qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that protects individual police officers from liability for civil damages for discretionary actions taken while acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officers, as long as the officer didn’t violate a person’s rights, according to the Public Agency Training Council’s website.
If an officer violates a person’s rights, they are not eligible to claim qualifies immunity.
Qualified immunity does not offer any protection from criminal charges.
On a practical level, it allows law enforcement officers to make arrests and split-second decisions regarding use of force without fear of constantly having to defend themselves personally from damages, as long as the force was legal.
Most executive branch officials are also granted qualified immunity while judges, prosecutors, and legislators are protected by other immunity doctrines, according to Cornell Law School.
A police officer may request qualified immunity if sued for a Constitutional violation.
If granted, qualified immunity protects the individual officers from being sued, but people may still sue the officer’s department.
This prevents the officer from needing to pay for legal defense and being subject to paying damages as long as they do their job properly.
Law enforcement officers are only entitled to qualified immunity if their actions do not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right.
Qualified immunity was designed to protect all police officers unless they are plainly incompetent or knowingly violated the law, according to FLETC.
As the United States entered day six of protests and rioting sparked by 46-year-old George Floyd’s death in the custody of the Minneapolis police, U.S. Representative Justin Amash (Libertarian-Michigan) released a “Dear Colleague” letter asking members of Congress to support proposed legislation to do end qualified immunity for police.
“Under qualified immunity, police are immune from liability unless the person whose rights they violated can show that there is a previous case in the same jurisdiction, involving the exact same facts, in which the court deemed the actions to be a constitutional violation,” Amash wrote.
His letter called qualified immunity a “permanent procedural roadblock for plaintiffs” that keeps them from collecting damages for “truly heinous rights violations.”
This is explicitly false, because officers are not eligible for qualified immunity when they violate people’s rights.
Amash’s letter claimed qualified immunity was created the U.S. Supreme Court as a direct contravention of the intent of Congress and said it was time for legislators to correct the high court’s mistake.
He cited “the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police” as the impetus for the Ending Qualified Immunity Act in his letter.
Fired-officer Derek Chauvin cannot be granted qualified immunity because kneeling on an unconscious man’s neck is an unconstitutional use of force.
“This pattern continues because police are legally, politically, and culturally insulated from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve,” Amash wrote. “That must change so that these incidents of brutality stop happening.”