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Qualified Immunity

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 16, 2023 | 0 Comments

Familiarity with police accountability doesn't almost seem familiar in policy or within the justice system and that's because of qualified immunity. It refers to the protections that government agents, including police officers, from liability of their misconduct or abuse of power, even when violating constitutional rights. This was established through a judicial doctrine upheld by the Supreme Court, and there is not access to sue in civil court UNLESS the state actor violated in “clearly established law.” Clearly established law indicates that “contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson, 107 S.Ct. at 3039.

The defendant's acts are held to be objectively reasonable unless all reasonable officials in the defendant's circumstances would have then known that the defendant's conduction violated the United States Constitution or the federal statute as alleged by the plaintiff, defined by the American Bar Association. The tragedies and inconsistencies of qualified immunity have led to the majority of Americans not in favor to keep this line that agents cross and enact violence that has been justified due to the lack of precedence. With this said, the culture of policing retains no accountability within their workforce and goes beyond proximity that leads to excessive force.

Constitutional rights applied to qualified immunity, in James Madison’s words, “parchment barriers”—symbolic commitments to individual liberty that do nothing in practice to deter or prevent unlawful misconduct by government agents. Most families that sue law enforcement in civil court due to the loss of a loved one and their death was caused by police brutality or negligence, do not receive legal remedy. Going back to precedence, qualified immunity is a legal “brick wall” as no prior judicial decision was made as the “unique facts of the case” do not apply elsewhere.

With the Supreme Court whom made qualified immunity, it defeats and weakens Section 1983, which guarantees the Fourteenth Amendment and keeps state actors accountable. The purpose of Section 1983 as a statute that was passed by the Reconstruction Congress that was in addition to the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871, that addressed civil rights violations and unjust actions that were against the law in Southern states. These violations and abuses could be sued in federal court and give access to financial or criminal justice for those harmed. However, with the Supreme Court abiding to the argument of qualified immunity from their perspective, “The statute, on its face, does not provide for any immunities.”

Focusing on the controversial topic being in uproar from Americans after the horrendous death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2020 and their police department using the defense of qualified immunity, much attention has been brought to the legal protection. Several states already have policies that would defeat the power of qualified immunity at the state level; federal level of qualified immunity has not be overturned, and federal agents and actors have ABSOLUTE immunity (more secure). Colorado created the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act in June 2020, which allows civil action against police officers that violate constitutional rights and cannot use qualified immunity to defend liability. Other states such New Jersey and California have also already introduced assembly bills that have protections for constitutional rights that can't be dismissed by state actors, including risk for losing certification of a law enforcement officer. There is a long road ahead for reverting qualified immunity, but the importance of police accountability has not been unfocused by many communities.

Current Story on the fight to end Qualified Immunity:

Ending Qualified Immunity Act Is Reintroduced in Congress - Capital B (

Supporting Documents:

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