A Study of What Police Know About Court Decisions Exposes ‘Qualified Immunity’s Boldest Lie’

A Study of What Police Know About Court Decisions Exposes ‘Qualified Immunity’s Boldest Lie’

In two cases it decided last fall and last winter, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that it might be prepared to limit the scope of qualified immunity, a doctrine that shields police officers and other government officials from federal liability for violating people’s constitutional rights unless the alleged misconduct ran afoul of “clearly established” law. In two decisions issued last week, by contrast, the Court complicated the puzzle of how plaintiffs can hope to satisfy that test.
The Court reaffirmed its prior statement that qualified immunity protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law”—a standard that excludes all manner of outrageous abuses. Worse, the justices twice suggested, in a decision from which none of them dissented, that lawsuits under 42 USC 1983, which allows people to seek damages for violations of their rights, may be barred even when the appeals court for the circuit in which a case is filed has previously concluded that conduct very similar to the defendant’s was unconstitutional.
“Even assuming that controlling Circuit precedent clearly establishes law for purposes of §1983,” the Court said in Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna, the 9th Circuit decision cited by the plaintiff “did not give fair notice” to the officer he sued. “Even assuming that Circuit precedent can clearly establish law for purposes of §1983,” the Court reiterated later in the same opinion, the earlier case “is materially distinguishable and thus does not govern the facts of this case.” Those opening clauses imply that “fair notice” might require a decision in which the Supreme Court itself addressed nearly identical facts, which would make an already formidable obstacle nearly impossible to overcome.
Whether or not the Court follows through on that alarming implication, the very notion of “fair notice” to police officers is based on what UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz calls “qualified immunity’s boldest lie”: the assumption that cops keep abreast of relevant case law, such that they would know when their actions closely resemble conduct that was previously deemed unconstitutional. Schwartz’s research, which she reported last May in The University of Chicago Law Review, documents a yawning gap between that implausible assumption and the reality of how cops are actually trained.
“Nowhere in the Court’s decisions is consideration given to how, exactly, police officers are expected to learn about the facts and holdings of the hundreds—if not thousands—of Supreme Court, circuit court, and district court opinions that could be used to clearly establish the law for qualified immunity purposes,” Schwa …

A Study of What Police Know About Court Decisions Exposes ‘Qualified Immunity’s Boldest Lie’

Follow the Thought Leader

Get News Emailed

Author does not have a research page

Author Does Not Have a Research Page

Share to Your Viral Community Timeline or Group

[bppfa_postform]

ONGOING STORIES

Relate Ongoing Stories

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.

Events

No events found

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.

PROPOSITIONS

...

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.

SPECIFIC TOPICS

No data found.

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.

VIEWPOINTS

No data found.

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.

CURATING THOUGHT LEADERS

No items found
No data found.

You need to be invited and accepted into the leader or group's thought leadership viral community.