Two opinions were issued by the Supreme Court Monday. They grant qualified immunity for police officers who are accused of brutality. This overturns lower court rulings that reached the opposite conclusion. Accordingly, the Court prohibited the victims of brutality from seeking justice in civil courts.
If the manner in which the government actor is accused of misbehaving and the specific circumstances that led to the incident aren’t yet ruled unconstitutional, the doctrine of qualified immunity provides protection from civil suit.
You may not be eligible for it. Previous recipients of qualified immunity include two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant, more than two dozen cops who damaged an innocent man’s house during a drug raid on the wrong residence, cops who shot children, and cops who used force against subdued suspects and those who had surrendered—not because their conduct was necessarily permissible but because no court precedent had yet said the precise components of each case violated the Constitution.
Monday’s verdict adds another to the list. A cop from Union City, California was accused of injuring an individual by pressing his left knee against the back. There were also two Tahlequah officers who killed and shot a man with a hammer.
This isn’t a question that I can answer. But it’s a question that should be answered by a jury of their peers, who are constitutionally tasked with taking on that duty—and not a few judges sitting on high. If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the lower courts and withheld qualified immunity, then neither plaintiff would have received damages. They would just have been legal permitted to present their case to a jury. This privilege is now denied to them.
Officer Daniel Rivas -Villegas was called to the 911 dispatch by a twelve-year-old who was worried that Ramon Cortesluna would harm her and her loved ones. Rivas -Villegas arrested Cortesluna, who allegedly injured his back by putting his knee in his back eight seconds after he was brought to the ground. According to U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, the Fourth Amendment is infringed when an officer acts with “suspects that were lying face down on the floor and weren’t resisting physical or verbally. On whose back, the defendant officer leaned with a leg, causing allegedly substantial injury.”
The Supreme Court disagreed and wrote that there wasn’t a precedent for this court. VerySimilar enough to what occurred between Rivas–Villegas & Cortesluna, so that the officer would be on notice of his unconstitutional conduct.
In the second instance, officers Chase Reed, Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick were called to respond to an emergency situation in which Dominic Rollice’s ex-wife claimed that he had been drinking and wouldn’t leave her home. Rollice was then taken into custody by the officers as they arrived at the scene. Vick and Girdner shot Rollice and then killed him.
U.S. Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, concluded that although the shooting was justified, a jury could conclude that Rollice’s arrest and capture by police created an unjustified situation. This is contrary to established law. Again, the Supreme Court disagreed with the decision. It declined to decide if Rollice was subject to constitutional violations but stated that precedents are too different from the actual situation.
Today’s Court decision is most troubling because it reiterated that “it’s especially important” in the Fourth Amendment context to locate identical court precedents in qualified immunity cases. This standard has rendered it difficult for victims and others affected by government abuse to hold the perpetrators responsible. He was actually trying to kill the non-threatening dog who was just a few feet away from him.
Although Vickers was reprimanded by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the 11th Circuit did not permit Vickers’ mother to sue her for money that she spent on her son’s treatment. She couldn’t find a ruling in the court that mirrored that nightmare day.
Many supporters of qualified immunity claim that the doctrine would lead to a flood of vacuous lawsuits against state officials. This is a false assumption. Even without qualified immunity, plaintiffs still need to prove the government violated their rights prior to going to trial. Qualified immunity only covers the second, and victims must then locate a match in court. Today’s Supreme Court decision is yet another example of how frustrating that process can be. The justices refused to allow them the chance to determine if any victims had been subjected or not to their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court tells us that the justices must find the perfect precedent. However, courts are often reluctant to set precedents when presented with the possibility.
The Court’s today’s decision is also a significant departure. Though it has avoided the opportunity to conduct a wholesale reevaluation of qualified immunity—a legal principle it legislated into existence decades ago—it had seemingly taken steps over the last year to send the message that the lower courts were being To specific Their qualified immunity jurisprudence. The first step was taken. Taylor v. RiojasA case in which the justices were able to reclaim qualified immunity from the prison guards who had thrown a naked man in cells containing sewage, feces and the other was in McCoy v. AlamuThe Court overturned an exemption grant for a guard in prison who had pepper-sprayed an individual without prompting. Clarence Thomas is the Court’s conservative justice and Sonia Sotomayor the Court’s liberal justice have taken aim at qualified immune.
Victims of abuse by the government will need to wait even longer. “What these two decisions illustrate is that the Supreme Court—despite its decisions last term in Taylor v. Riojas and McCoy v. Alamu—Jay Schweikert, research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, says the Cato Institute does not appear to want to make fundamental changes in the doctrine of qualified immunity. Both these cases reinforce the belief that to overcome qualified immunity, one must have a case similar in content.