“Qualified immunity” is a horrible doctrine, causing much injustice. The current Supreme Court is not likely to fix it, but this is another good reason to “pack the Court”!
Excerpts from the Article:
After police followed an unarmed robbery suspect into Amy Corbitt’s Georgia yard, they ordered four young children – at gunpoint – to lie face down on the ground. When a deputy sheriff spotted a pet dog, which Corbitt said “posed no threat,” he shot at the dog twice and missed. The second shot hit Corbitt’s 10-year-old son lying less than 2 feet from the deputy, causing a serious leg injury.
Corbitt sued to hold the deputy liable for excessive force that violated her son’s constitutional rights, but she ran into a hurdle so high that it has stopped thousands of people from holding police accountable for unconstitutional acts.
A federal appeals panel threw out Corbitt’s case, with a majority granting the deputy “qualified immunity.” Why? Because Corbitt failed to find a prior case with the same facts where a court ruled an officer violated the law by accidentally shooting a bystander. Thus, there was no “clearly established” law against the deputy’s actions.
A dissenting judge had a more sensible take on the events of July 10, 2014: “Facing no apparent threat (the officer) chose to fire his lethal weapon in the direction of these children. No reasonable officer would engage in such recklessness” or “think such recklessness was lawful.”
The Supreme Court declined to review the case last year, shutting Corbitt out of court. And no officer will be deterred from such reckless conduct in the future.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year and protests over police brutality, this once-obscure legal doctrine has turned into a rallying cry in the drive against excessive force.
Created by the Supreme Court in a series of rulings starting in 1967, qualified immunity means if a victim wants to sue police – or any government official – she must find a case from the Supreme Court or in her federal circuit (the United States is divided into 12 circuits) where a court ruled that the exact same situation violated constitutional rights. If she can’t, those rights are not considered clearly established and the courtroom door is barred.