Author’s Note: This will be the last blog entry concerning Qualified Immunity for awhile. I don’t want my blog to become too stagnate so I will reconvene on this topic at a later date. If you wish to learn more about Qualified Immunity or stay on top of the latest developments I would recommend visiting the Unjust Shield blog. This essay was a letter sent to several Arizona representatives requesting that they assist in the effort to abolish QI. This political luminaries included: Mark Finchem, Vince Leach, Martha McSally, and Kyrsten Sinema.
June 25th, 2020
The Honorable (Insert name here).
Dear Representative (Insert name here)
The death of George Floyd has ignited a renewed interest in policing reform. Purposed reform measures have ranged from increasing training requirements to dissolving police departments. I would personally suggest eliminating one of the institutional protections that shield negligent police officers from accountability, Qualified Immunity. A legal doctrine originally intended to protect government employees from being sued for performing essential job functions, providing their actions do not violate any well-established rights. Unfortunately, this protection is slowly starting to become a form of absolute immunity. Per the 2018 paper by the University of Chicago legal professor William Baude the Supreme Court general overturns instances where the lower courts deny Qualified Immunity to police officers. Demonstrating the failure of the checks-and-balances on this legal privilege. This matter is only exasperated by the Supreme Court’s decision last week to refuse to reconsider this legal doctrine.
The innumerable examples of officers that have clearly violated the rights of American citizens and are still granted Qualified Immunity are horrifying. In the case of Baxter V. Bracey (2014) a suspect was attacked by a police dog after having surrendered to the arresting officers. There was the case of Jessop v. Fresno where officers stole rare coins and cash totaling over $225,000.00 during a search of a private residence. In the case of Mullenix v. Luna (2010) where the officer performed a dangerous maneuver that he had no previous training to stop a high-speed chase. In any other occupation not only would the employee be fired, but in most cases be held liable for damages in the event of a lawsuit. If arresting officers were cognizant of the fact that they could be sued, wouldn’t they be less inclined to take risks? To adequately tackle such examples of negligence incentives, need to be realigned. Qualified Immunity creates such a sturdy safety net for police officers that either consciously or subconsciously take this legal protection for granted. This leads to the above-described examples of malfeasance.
As any reasonable person can tell you defunding the police or dissolving police departments is not a realistic solution. It is practically infeasible and tantamount to political suicide. Instead of abolishing the institution, it is best to implement checks-and-balances. Rather than construct bureaucratic and legal safeguards that insulate civil servants from the consequences of gross ineptitude. Whether that be through criminal prosecution or Tort law. The best way to start would be by eliminating Qualified Immunity. I respectfully ask that you support any initiative on the state level to help abolish this problematic legal privilege. Qualified Immunity is recognized in Arizona law under ARS 36-738.