a chart showing qualified immunity by circuit court

From the News: Investigative Report on Police Impunity in the Courts

From the News: Investigative Report on Police Impunity in the Courts

Highly recommend you grab a cup of coffee and check out this interactive piece from a Special Reuters Investigation into lawsuits against police, and how the courts typically react. This story is moving for two reasons, it shares the personal stories of two victims of excessive force, and how courts in California and Texas treated to this injustice.

For years, the words “qualified immunity” were seldom heard outside of legal and academic circles, where critics have long contended that the doctrine is unjust. But outrage over the killing of George Floyd and incidents like it have made this 50-year-old legal doctrine — created by the U.S. Supreme Court itself — a target of broad public demands for comprehensive reform to rein in police behavior.

The criticism that qualified immunity denies justice to victims of police brutality is well-founded. As Reuters reported just two weeks before Floyd’s death, the immunity defense has been making it easier for cops to kill or injure civilians with impunity. Based on federal appellate court records, the report showed, courts have been granting cops immunity at increasing rates in recent years — even when judges found the behavior so egregious that it violated a plaintiff’s civil rights — thanks largely to continual Supreme Court guidance that has favored police.

The regional differences Reuters has found in how qualified immunity is granted only add to arguments that the doctrine is unfair. “It’s essential to our system of government that access to justice should be the same in Dallas and Houston as in Phoenix and Las Vegas,” said Paul Hughes, a prominent civil rights attorney who frequently argues before the U.S. Supreme Court. “It shouldn’t turn on the happenstance of geography as to whether or not they (plaintiffs) have a remedy.”

Despite the odds continually being stacked against victims like the two featured in this story, we need to keep fighting for justice. This is the same reason why we fight in the courtroom for clients who have been wronged. We need to hold negligent individuals and companies accountable so that they do not keep harming people.