What is Qualified Immunity?

On March 13, 2020, a woman named Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her own home in Louisville. Three Louisville police officers raided her home without a warrant and ended up taking her life. Although one of the officers was fired for his actions, none of them were charged. Another big action that brought upon global protests this year was the strangling of George Floyd by officers in Minneapolis. The officers are not charged for committing unlawful actions in America and people wonder why. These shootings, as well as other wrongdoings by police officers, have placed a spotlight on a legal doctrine called qualified immunity and whether or not it should be removed.

According to Lawfare, “Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations—like the right to be free from the excessive police force—for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate ‘clearly established’ law” (Lawfare Blog). Yes, you read that right. All government officials are immune from liability if they violate your rights.

In order to tell if a right is “clearly established,” the plaintiff has to show that an earlier decision made by the court in the same situation or under the same circumstances was deemed unconstitutional. If there is no way to prove this, qualified immunity protects the government official from the action. Find out more information here.

Morals are in no way relevant when identifying whether an officer is entitled to charges or punishment. It only comes down to whether or not the action was constitutional and it goes through the “clearly-established test” mentioned above. The website Injustice for Justice gives an example of an officer stealing $225,000 while executing a search warrant and they were entitled to qualified immunity because that court had “never addressed whether the theft of property covered by the terms of a search warrant…violates the Fourth Amendment.” Check out more examples and information here.

There are many debates on whether or not qualified immunity should be abolished and there was even a bill this year called the “Ending Qualified Immunity Act.” This bill was rejected by the House of Representatives for many reasons, one being that the officers may retaliate and it will be hard to hire more. However, the bill is being looked at once again, so there’s still hope.

Do your research and vote in this election.

Contact your state representatives and voice your concerns. If you want this bill to be passed, urge your representatives to vote to pass the bill that will abolish qualified immunity.