An important goal among members of the U.S. Congress is developing comprehensive police reform legislation. However, a major sticking point involves qualified immunity. Those who advocate for sweeping police forms contend that they aren’t possible unless qualified immunity is eliminated.
Qualified immunity essentially means that law enforcement officers as well as other public officials cannot typically be sued in civil court for their actions on the job. The exception is if a plaintiff can show two things: There was a violation of their constitutional rights, and that a court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a similar case. Those two things, as police reform advocates point out, present an unreasonably high bar for victims of police misconduct.
The issue of qualified immunity is stalling a federal police reform law
A key piece of proposed police reform legislation in Congress would eliminate qualified immunity for officers. Another piece of legislation, introduced as an alternative to that bill, does not eliminate or dampen qualified immunity.
As with most things, these days, Congress is divided on this issue, even though the American public is less divided. According to one poll conducted in April, 59% of respondents indicated that they supported ending qualified immunity.
One official with a bipartisan organization called the Justice Action Network says that one way legislators may be able to reach a compromise is by requiring law enforcement agencies and municipalities to assume greater liability for police misconduct.
Colorado lawmakers moved to limit qualified immunity last year
Meanwhile, some state legislatures are taking matters into their own hands. Colorado was the first state to place limits on qualified immunity by placing limits on the use of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. Under the new law, passed last year, plaintiffs can take civil legal action for claims that a law enforcement officer deprived them of their rights.
The law enforcement agency that employed the accused officer in question would be required to pay the award or settlement in a case unless it could successfully argue that the officer could not have reasonably believed their actions were lawful. However, if an officer is unable to pay the judgment, the agency would be responsible for it, along with the victim’s attorney fees.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of police brutality or other misconduct by a law enforcement officer, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.