How the Supreme Court uses an obscure legal doctrine to let cops kill with impunity

Originally published at:


The article is worth visiting.

In the cases it accepts, the court nearly always decides in favor of police. The high court has also put its thumb on the scale by repeatedly tweaking the process. It has allowed police to request immunity before all evidence has been presented. And if police are denied immunity, they can appeal immediately – an option unavailable to most other litigants, who typically must wait until after a final judgment to appeal.


Revoke all police liability protections.


Yes, very interesting article, which links to another, about the coalition opposing qualified immunity for cops.
Thanks for getting at some of the systemic roots of this injustice.


This is only little known in civilian populations. Within police forces it is de rigueur training material.


an officer shot a man in a mental health crisis who was stabbing himself and trying to slit his own throat.

That’ll show him not to kill himself. /s


Ah yes, the “civilized” lingo jingo of our good ol’ fashioned police state.

As someone who litigated a federal case in which cops’ immunity was an issue, I have to say that the Reuters piece is what you get when reporters and editors either don’t know what they’re talking about or don’t care.
tl;dr: Qualified immunity let’s the individual off the hook for liability for their actions. It does not, not, not let their employer off the hook. Indeed, the employing entity is faced with the Catch 22 of taking responsibility for the cops’ acts or explaining why such extreme behavior was essentially tolerated.
And, as a civil litigator who believes in accountability, I do not accept that getting monetary damages from a cop achieves much. Money can and will come from the employing entity. And what’s actually needed is a means to hold the murderous scumbags a) off the force and b) kept from being employed by any other police agency or entity. Again, a lawsuit won’t accomplish that, and not because of qualified immunity. The problem is a lack of will. Not going to say it never happened but I have zero knowledge of any government that actually held its police force accountable in any meaningful way. Again to my knowledge, there hasn’t even been a civilian complaint board with any teeth and government support approximately ever.
I should also add that were a cop found liable in a world where QI didn’t exist, all they have to do would be file for bankruptcy and their financial obligation gets wiped out. And they remain employed.
The inability to fire them and keep them from ever becoming police again is the problem. And again, QI is irrelevant to that.


Except that Monell liability for municipalities is also very limited, and a lot of courts have basically reduced it to “So, you guys in West Bumfuck don’t have an official, written policy of straight-up murdering black and brown folks? Thanks, that’s all we needed to see. Motion to dismiss granted.”

… And their credit score would be in the toilet for the next seven years, which–speaking as a person whose credit score was once in the toilet–is not nothing.

Getting rid of QI and its one-way ratchet (“Well, we’ve never yet had a case where a defendant knelt on the suspect with his LEFT knee while the suspect was looking RIGHT, so it wasn’t clearly established that killing him that way deprived him of his constitutional rights! Go forth and sin in this extremely precise fashion no more!”) isn’t a complete solution, but it’s part of one.


As an outsider, the police in America look more like an occupying army than a police force.


QI is certainly a bad thing, but it only applies to suits under 42 USC 1983. Revoking this judge-invented doctrine is certainly worth doing, but as @Manqueman said, it doesn’t fix the numerous other ways that cops are protected:

  1. The various state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights including LAPD’s home of California, and MPD’s home of Minnesota.
  2. Union contracts often give incredible latitude to what must be done to fire or otherwise discipline them.
  3. Prosecutors have to work with cops, and prosecuting some cops can make the others not want to work with you, lowering their conviction rate.
  4. Juries. There are a lot of people out there that are authority worshipers, and want to lick the boot that they think will mostly be on other people’s necks.
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As an American citizen, they look that way to me, too.


I logged in to say most of this but you beat me to it.

Also, perhaps QI is “Little-known” amongst reporters and bloggers, but it is a foundational principle with respect to being able to hire govt officials. Every first or second-year law student is familiar with in at least two areas: Cinstitutional Law and Tirts.

It is one of the main reasons govts can hire anyone, much less cops, at all. Would you ever consider being a cop if any action you took where you made the smallest mistake could cause you to be personally financially responsible? Running on foot to help someone who is being assaulted and you accidentally bump a bystander with an eggshell head and they die? Congrats! Your family just lost their house.

QI doesn’t/shouldn’t apply in cases where the behavior was willfully outside their mandate. Where that line is is a valid debate to have. But I don’t see how you can even start to try to improve you police force by hiring better cops while removing QI.

I work in the natural gas industry and i can be held personally responsible if i take an action that causes a single person to die due to my actions and it pushes me to take my job more seriously and professionally. Cops not being held responsible for their actions only allows them to treat themselves better than the citizens they’re supposed to protect.


As a baker I can be personally held liable if someone gets diarrhea, which is unpleasant for them but way less unpleasant than being dead.


This is a blindspot I think in this crisis. The courts are as responsible for George Floyd’s death, as the police are. They are a check against police power, that does not function.

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Who exactly is their employer of a publicly funded state or municipal department in a government for and by the people ?

I’m glad that Reuters journalists have brought the problem to our attention. At least some legislators have paid attention. Probably won’t pass, but it’s a start.


Given that qualified immunity was invented out of whole cloth in 1967, I don’t believe that’s true at all.

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