WHAT IS QUALIFIED IMMUNITY?
Qualified immunity has become a hot button issue as groups across the country are calling for repeal.
Qualified immunity protects government officials, like law enforcement, from being held personally liable for things that happen on the job, unless they violate a “clearly established law”.
“Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” – Pearson v. Callahan.
While the debate will no doubt rage on in the weeks and months to come, National Police Support Fund continues to stand with our nation’s police officers and continues to fight for their protection under the law.
Specifically, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. When determining whether or not a right was “clearly established,” courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.
Courts conducting this analysis apply the law that was in force at the time of the alleged violation, not the law in effect when the court considers the case. Accordingly, courts must resolve qualified immunity issues as early in a case as possible, preferably before discovery.
Qualified immunity only applies to suits against government officials as individuals, not suits against the government for damages caused by the officials’ actions. Although qualified immunity frequently appears in cases involving police officers, it also applies to most other executive branch officials. While judges, prosecutors, legislators, and some other government officials do not receive qualified immunity, most are protected by other immunity doctrines.
- Qualified immunity is not immunity from having to pay money damages, but rather immunity from having to go through the costs of a trial at all.
It protects law enforcement officers from being the target of frivolous lawsuits over civil rights violations in their official capacity.
If qualified immunity is repealed, it would create an unpredicted legal environment. This means activist judges can use a repealed law to rule on lawsuits based on their feelings not on legal basis.
Removing this protection opens law enforcement officers up to dangerous personal lawsuits simply for doing their jobs.
Repealing qualified immunity could result in even fewer people lining up to serve the public during these troubled times, knowing it could lead to personal and financial ruin.
The U.S. Supreme Court first introduced the qualified immunity doctrine in 1967, originally with the rationale of protecting law enforcement officials from frivolous lawsuits and financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith in unclear legal situations