A study of what the police know about the court’s decision reveals a ‘bold lie of worthy immunity’

In two cases it ruled last autumn and last winter, the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that it may be prepared to limit the scope of qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects police officers and other government officials from federal liability for violating the people’s constitutional rights. Is alleged. Misconduct goes against the “clearly established” law. In contrast to the two decisions issued last week, the court has complicated the puzzle of how plaintiffs can expect to satisfy that test.

The court reaffirmed in its earlier statement that qualified immunity protects all except “the most incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law” – a standard that excludes all forms of offensive abuse. Worse, the judges have twice advised, in a decision from which none of them disagreed, that cases under 42 USC 1983, which allow people to seek compensation for violations of their rights, can be barred even when appealing to the circuit court. The similar behavior of the accused was unconstitutional before the case was filed.

“Even assuming that controlling the circuit precedent clearly establishes a law intended for 3 1983,” the court said. Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna, 9th Circuit’s decision “did not give fair notice” to the officer quoted by the plaintiff that he sued. “Even assuming that the circuit precedent could clearly establish law for the purpose of 81983,” the court later reiterated in the same opinion, the previous case “being physically separate and thus not controlling the events in this case.” These opening clauses imply that a decision may be required for “fair notice” The Supreme Court itself Almost identical information has been addressed, which would make it almost impossible to overcome an already strong obstacle.

Whether or not the court follows that alarming effect, the notion of a “fair notice” to police officers is based on what UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz called a “bold lie of competent immunity”: the notion that police comply with relevant case law. , So that they can know when their actions are in line with intimate behavior that was previously considered unconstitutional. Schwartz’s research, which he reported last May University of Chicago Law Review, Documenting a yawning gap between those unimaginable assumptions and the reality of how police are trained.

“Nowhere in the court decisions is it considered how, police officers are expected to learn about the hundreds of facts and holdings of Supreme Court, Circuit Court, and District Court opinions that can be used explicitly. Establish laws for qualified immunity,” Schwartz notes. Has done. “And police officers didn’t even consider the possibility of recalling the truth and holdings of these hundreds or thousands of cases because they’re making split-second decisions about stopping and chasing someone, searching cars or firing their guns.”

Schwartz examined “hundreds of enforcement policies, training, and other educational materials obtained by California law enforcement officers.” He found that the information in these materials was generally limited to the broader principles of the Supreme Court’s main judgments – the principles that the court stated. No. Enough to show that an officer’s alleged behavior violated “clearly established” laws.

In the 1985 case Tennessee vs. GarnerFor example, the court said that the police can use lethal force against a fugitive suspect only if he or she needs to be prevented from fleeing and has good reason to believe that he or she poses a significant threat of violence to officers or the general public. In the 1989 case Graham v. Connor, The court said that coercion by the police must be “purposefully reasonable”, a resolution that requires “careful attention to the events and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat. For the safety of officers or others.” And whether he is actively resisting arrest or trying to avoid arrest on a plane. “

Although “police departments regularly inform their officers about waterlogging decisions Graham And Garner“Schwartz found,Officers are not regularly or reliably informed of court decisions that interpret those decisions in a variety of real-life situations ধরনের the kind of decisions that are clearly needed to establish legislation on the constitutionality of the use of force. ” Which “refers to or incorporates constitutional values Graham And Garner,
But which is rarely mentioned in any case Graham And Garner Was applied. “

Schwartz also read 329 police “outlines of training” and found that more than three-quarters “did not mention the application of any court decision. Graham And / or Garner“Even when such decisions were mentioned,” the outlines suggest that trainers do not educate officers about their information and retention. Includes. Circumstances, “outlines” give no indication that these circumstances were drawn from the court case. “Schwartz has found little evidence that prosecutors or newsletters are filling this gap in police knowledge.

“Even if law enforcement relies heavily on court decisions to educate their officers about the constitutional limits of coercion, the expectation of baked notices and reliance on competent immunity doctrine will still be unrealistic,” Schwartz wrote. “There may not be enough time to train more than a hundred officers.
Unless there are thousands of court cases that can establish law for the purpose of clearly qualified immunity. Moreover, even if an officer comes to know about the veracity and retention of the court decision Graham And Garner“There’s no reason to believe that an officer would think about the high-speed, high-pressure interactions that often lead to coercion.”

In light of this fact, Schwartz said, “there is no point in pointing out the depth of the plaintiffs’ vests for a similarly lower court decision in practice as evidence that the officers were on notice of unconstitutionality of their conduct.” Since this requirement is based on a clearly flawed premise, he says, it “does not advance the stated goals of qualified immunity.”

If the police are not expected to reasonably accept the information that the Supreme Court has said is necessary for a “fair notice”, then competent immunity defenders may conclude that they may need it. More Protection from liability. But if such detailed knowledge is really necessary to prevent officers from violating the rights of the people, shouldn’t police departments that regularly fail to provide it be held accountable for the resulting abuse? And if their current approach is correct, what does this say about the court’s insistence on highly specific precedents as a condition for filing a lawsuit with the police under 42 USC 1983?

Without competent immunity, the court will be free to decide whether the conduct of an officer violates the principles established by the lawsuit. Graham And Garner, Even if no one has been blamed before for doing the same thing. This approach will not result in destructive personal liability for police officers, because (as Schwartz also showed) the police receive regular compensation even when they lose civil rights lawsuits. But allowing such cases to proceed would improve accountability, allow victims of police torture to seek compensation, and help clarify currently unresolved constitutional issues.

“Since the court can grant officers competent immunity because plaintiffs do not find similar cases in the past, competent immunity can deny relief to plaintiffs whose constitutional rights have been violated and protect officials from liability even if they behave maliciously or recklessly,” Schwartz noted. . He concluded that the court should “stop sending the message to the authorities that they can ‘shoot first and think later’ and send the message to the people that their rights are not important.”

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