If The US Supreme Court Modifies or Abolishes Qualified Immunity, This Could Completely Transform Arrests & Police Brutality
The tragedy that occurred involving George Floyd and the officer who killed him after kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest – when video footage indicates that Floyd was not resisting arrest – has sparked widespread protests around the country, highlighting the issue of an overall lack of accountability when it comes to police violence and civil rights violations. A number of police have long evaded being held accountable for violence – not only due to prosecutors, grand juries, and/or juries being hesitant to bring charges, indict, and/or find that the officer was acting outside of self-defense – but also due to the doctrine of qualified immunity, which essentially prohibits officers from being held responsible for violating someone’s rights unless they have violated “clearly established law”; interpreted by the courts and panels to mean that officers are not held accountable unless there is prior case law essentially involving the exact same facts of the case at hand placing them on notice that their actions were illegal or unconstitutional.
Ironically, the doctrine of qualified immunity is now before the US Supreme Court, as nine qualified immunity challenges have been filed by individuals and organizations, asking that the Court reconsider the current doctrine and either modify or abandon it. In late May, the Court held its private conference, considering the challenges. The justices now have a choice amongst nine different pending petitions that offer a number of different fact patterns involving police officers winning immunity. Depending upon whether and which one is heard, the future of the doctrine – and thus how a number of suspects are treated during arrests – as well as their rights to hold the police accountable for using excessive force, now hangs in the balance, and there is a good chance that the Court will take the issue up, as at least two justices have criticized its current status.
Corbitt v. Vickers
One of those pending petitions includes an Eleventh Circuit case, Corbitt v. Vickers, which involved a sheriff who was granted qualified immunity by a split panel after he accidentally shot a child who was lying on the ground in the process of trying to shoot a pet dog that was not posing a threat. The panel never reached the question of whether the victim’s constitutional rights were violated because it found that there were no prior cases involving these same facts of an officer accidentally shooting a child while trying to shoot something else, and thus no liability for the officer.
A number of organizations have filed amicus briefs in the case, arguing that qualified immunity continues to exacerbate the crisis of accountability for law enforcement and deny justice to victims whose rights are violated, thus damaging the overall credibility of all law enforcement. These organizations also argue that stare decisis should not hold the Court to previous precedent because the “clearly established law” standard fails to provide “stability and predictability” that justifies treating it as precedent.
If You Have Been Arrested in Florida, Contact The Baez Law Firm
If your constitutional rights have been violated due to excessive force used by police during an arrest, contact The Baez Law Firm to speak with a skilled Orlando criminal defense attorney. We provide free (safe) consultations.