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Congress & Lower Courts Take Up Qualified Immunity Doctrine as US Supreme Court Passes


We’ve previously discussed the doctrine of qualified immunity and how it affects both criminal defense and civil rights; specifically how it affects determining whether police used excessive force and therefore whether a defendant’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure have been violated. The doctrine arguably plays a significant role not only in allowing for police officers to escape civil liability after violating defendants’ constitutional rights, but in enabling police officers to, as US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor described it, “shoot first [and] think later,” at times not only aggressively proceeding with arrests and unconstitutional searches and seizures, but also other illegal activity, including taking lives, regardless of what the law dictates, because there will be no accountability.

The nation was eagerly awaiting the US Supreme Court’s decision on whether it would abolish or modify qualified immunity, which could have transformed how police approach and conduct themselves during arrests, ultimately affecting the entire criminal justice system and how defendants are targeted and selected for prosecution, as well as how and to what extent evidence is seized. However, in late June, the Court announced that it would not hear any of the pending qualified immunity cases, ultimately leaving it up to Congress to address the issue.

Status of Legislation to End Qualified Immunity in Congress

Several legislators did just that: In June, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley introduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act in the House, while Sens. Edward Markey, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Still, it is unclear whether this type of legislation will win enough bipartisan support from Congressmembers to pass, as a number of Republicans have indicated that they do not support rolling back the doctrine.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity to Police Who Shot an Incapacitated, Injured Person

There has also been some progress in the Courts: In late June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that police officers who fired 22 rounds into the back of Wayne A. Jones, a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia, after tasing, hitting, kicking, and placing him in a chokehold, were not entitled to qualified immunity because he was incapacitated, injured, and not moving; in other words, a reasonable jury could find that he was already secured – and did not pose a threat – right before he was killed by police.

The court made some incredibly important statements about the issue in doing so, discussing a number of incidents involving police shootings of black people in general and pointing out that “Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of the police… This has to stop.” The Court ultimately noted that police officers are expected to make decisions “with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives.”

If You Are Facing Charges & Have Been the Victim OF Excessive Force, Contact The Baez Law Firm

If you have been the victim of fear-based use of deadly force during an arrest here in Florida, contact The Baez Law Firm. Orlando criminal lawyer Jose Baez has the experience in criminal defense and civil rights necessary to ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the best outcome possible.






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