Police Abuse

Supreme Court Rules Unanimously to Protect Qualified Immunity for Police

Rules that qualified immunity applies unless the situation matches one where qualified didn't apply in the past

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KayVee.INC/flickr

The Supreme Court reversed a decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, handing down an 8-0 decision in the case of White v. Paulie that will serve to strengthen qualified immunity for police officers.

The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers' home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to "get his side of the story," to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn't identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.

That's when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell "we have guns." He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn't hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.

The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known," as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.

"In the last five years, this Court has issued a number of opinions reversing federal courts in qualified immunity cases," the court noted in its White v. Paulie decision, appearing to signal that there ought to be less of these making it all the way to the Supreme Court. "The Court has found this necessary both because qualified immunity is important to 'society as a whole,' and because as 'an immunity from suit', qualified immunity 'is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.'"

The crux of the court's decision is that, as "this Court explained decades ago, the clearly established law must be 'particularized' to the facts of the case." The court admonished the appeals court for misunderstanding "the 'clearly established analysis,'" writing that the 10th circuit had "failed to identify a case where an officer acting under similar circumstances as Officer White was held to have violated the Fourth Amendment." Given that every police shooting is different in its own way, this is a troubling standard from the perspective of reducing police violence and increasing accountability for it.

The appeals court, the Supreme Court continued, "did not conclude that White's conduct—such as his failure to shout a warning—constituted a run-of-the-mill Fourth Amendment violation." The Supreme Court did not explain what they believed a "run-of-the-mill" Fourth Amendment looks like—the phrase is not a legal term of art.

The appeals court "recognized that 'this case presents a unique set of facts and circumstances' in light of White's late arrival on the scene. This alone should have been an important indication to the majority that White's conduct did not violate a 'clearly established' right."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg offered a concurring opinion that North Carolina criminal defense attorney and prolific legal tweeter Greg Doucette called an "after-the-fact 'this isn't as bad as it looks' concurrence," one "that would be totally unnecessary if it wasn't actually just as bad as it looks."

"The Supreme Court's (unanimous) ruling means that absolutely no §1983 case will survive summary judgment on qualified immunity," Doucette tweeted, "Unless there is preexisting precedent with the exact same facts."

It's important to stress that this decision was unanimous. The court may be divided evenly between liberals and conservatives, but when it comes to advocates of government power, they have an overwhelming majority. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose dissent in Utah v. Strieff, a case about the Fourth Amendment and police searches, Slate called an "atomic bomb of a dissent slamming racial profiling and mass imprisonment," didn't dissent here.

The Supreme Court's latest ruling also highlights how crucial police reforms at the local level are to the cause of lowering police violence. Cops with the propensity to use excessive force or otherwise habitually violate Constitutional rights have to be removed from the force before they have a chance to kill anyone—that requires higher hiring standards, more accountability and discipline, and eliminating the largely union contract-driven privileges and protections that enable all of it.

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50 responses to “Supreme Court Rules Unanimously to Protect Qualified Immunity for Police

  1. Statists gotta state.

    1. Whaaaaa But the Courts are all objective. Judges do not have a conflict of interest when faced with reducing govt power

  2. Crap….screw you Nazgul.

    The Supreme Court’s latest ruling also highlights how crucial police reforms at the local level are to the cause of lowering police violence.

    A long, painful and necessary struggle.

  3. “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known”

    Serious question: Has “reasonable person” ever been, um, legally defined?

    1. Apparently it means “would not expect police to identify themselves when attacking a house”.

      1. this and even identifying is irrelevant!!!!!

        I for one don’t care who is at my door or who walks in. You come in uninvited and i don’t personally know you…..you get killed. Police Police…..yea i dont know if your a thug or a cop or both. I am shooting until i am safe or dead.

        I fervently believe I have a natural right to verify papers and identities before cops enter my house…evidence be damned.

        You can hand me a warrant and stand outside with your hands away from your weapon.

        1.) I will read word for word the warrant
        2.) Call the judge to verify
        3.) Call the police station to verify you are cops
        4.) Call a lawyer
        5.) Let you in

        If that is not done in a civil way or any of these things are done by the cops…..

        1.) You touch your weapon
        2.) make a threat
        3.) advance into my house
        4.) rush me or do anything i consider a threat

        ….I kill every single one of you I can to ensure my safety or kill as many as i can before I die.

        We live in the US not Germany or North Korea. It is a civilized society and i have natural rights and my safety is over you fuckers.

        1. I admire your courage and hope your life insurance is paid up and that you have informed loved ones what you would like them to do with your bullet riddled body.

          1. they can do whatever they want…i kid around that i want my body salted and burned though 😀

            I also have solid life insurance policy so no sweat off my back, 😉

            1. dont want to be a ghost or zombie 😉

    2. In law school my friends and I called it the “Hank Hill Standard.”

      1. So if no propane tanks are harmed its A ok

      2. “It’s called the double standard, Bobby. Don’t knock it ? we got the long end of the stick on that one.”

  4. And another thing: What’s magic about being, um, an agent of the State in this regard? That is, if Joe Blow’s “conduct does not violate” why should he be sue-able?

    1. Well goverment agents protect and serve the public they are always working towards the common good. Even though they are individuals their unique characteristics are restrained by the magical government badge, which makes them pretty much angels.

      Joe Blow is only interested in himself and can only conduct himself that way. He can never act in the interest of others. As we know all know government keeps our malcious, selfish tendencies in check. Without government we’d be rolling the dice that our food wasn’t rat poison that our cars wont explode when he turn on the ignition etc

      1. An often left out factor is that the majority of CCW holders don’t shoot people without being to back up a self-defense claim unlike police.

        Thank god for qualified immunity!

        1. this. It is bullshit cops are held to a lower standard. They should be at the same standard as a citizen or stricter….FML

  5. If judges were being shot I bet the court would have a different opinion

    1. What if they were being fed into a woodchipper?

      Asking theoretically, of course.

      1. I didn’t lol. Psst, I did.

  6. That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell

    (laughing) It’s spelled “Paulistas”, you BULLY!

  7. Qualified immunity fertilizes freedom-hatred and compels an already jaggedly violent morality to dispense with a caution penned in constitutional neon lights.

    Blood loses its crucial value when government can endlessly justify its spilling. And so the fuck it is with qualified immunity- the grail of governing lecherous ilk.

    Snide middle-fingers fling from supreme courts as grinding proxy jackboots onto the straining necks of common folk.

    Afterward the noxious governing muggers leer through crystal chalices wet with wine across lace tables and bleeding steaks.

    Fuck these insidious shitting chainers.

  8. I think they prosecuted the wrong cop.

    1. I think there are government servants (SCOTUS- I am talking to you) that are okay with murder as long as it is by government agents.

      The story seems that the police were not identifiable as cops and dead person shot warning shot while under the threat of armed attack by unknown persons.

      Flip the story and see if the SCOTUS would have given the shooter immunity. Doubt it. That person would be a cop killer.

  9. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then a cop (law enforcement) to end the gates of heaven”.

    1. LoL enter the gates of heaven

  10. Not to confuse the issue, but (if the reporting is correct) officer White would expect that the officers who arrived first would identify themselves. His view was that the “suspect” yelled that he was armed, came out and fired a shot, and fire was being returned by law enforcement. Any reasonable officer would then join in to both subdue the suspect (at this time the aggressor in a gunfight) and protect the other officers.
    The guys who should have been sued were those who arrived first and did not follow procedure to identify themselves as officers. Or the women that filed the original report.
    Full disclosure; I have a relative in law enforcement. He would have dropped the whole issue after determining there was no cause for an arrest.

    So on the issue of qualified immunity, yes for White, no for the outer two.

    1. Agreed – and that would have come out in court had the suit been allowed to procede. By the description given I would imagine that he’d have won handily. Broadly applying qualified immunity to everything as grounds for dismissal, however, means that we’ll never get to see evidence in opposition to the “official report” ever again

    2. Agreed – and that would have come out in court had the suit been allowed to procede. By the description given I would imagine that he’d have won handily. Broadly applying qualified immunity to everything as grounds for dismissal, however, means that we’ll never get to see evidence in opposition to the “official report” ever again

      1. But do the squirrels have qualified immunity?

  11. I shouldn’t say this, but:

    There are only two solutions in a case such as this.

    #1, Put on a lot of body armor, arm yourself, and pray they’re too smart to bash open your door. Wait until they get bored and leave.

    #2, Shoot literally all of them and pray you win the court case.

    If you let them shoot you, you will likely die and they will get off scott-free. Your only chance is to not allow them to shoot you.

    I really don’t like this conclusion but I can’t deny that these articles show there is really no other way.

    God help us!

    1. help see my post above. If enough of us say fuck off slaver things will change.

  12. “The Supreme Court’s (unanimous) ruling means that absolutely no ?1983 case will survive summary judgment on qualified immunity,” Doucette tweeted, “Unless there is preexisting precedent with the exact same facts.”

    So, since you can’t lose QI unless you fuck up exactly the same way as someone else fucked up before – no new QI exceptions can be created.

    1. I mean, I can see how the lower court may have gotten it wrong and shouldn’t have removed QI from this cop – based *solely* on the short description of the incident included in this article and nothing else – but I don’t see how the SC gets from there to here.

  13. We have to remember that libertarians are fundamentally defective in that we don’t think (as others note above) that wearing a special badge or being employed by the state doesn’t imbue individuals with special wholesome virtues.

    I learned this in school when I’d argue that cops and prosecutors are just as self-interested as the rest of us, and our constitutional protections were designed to protect us from the state. “Lol that’s just crazy talk.”

  14. I understand White not being responsible….I still disagree but i understand their point.

    But the first 2 cops that created this situation are 100% culpable for this mans death and creating everything. They are the ones who escalated and scared the residences for no reason. That is what ended up getting an innocent man killed.

    1. I understand him not being responsible, and the civil suit would likely have cleared him… now nobody can go to trial anymore

      1. i dont think so. He is cleared but i dont think the other 2 are free from being charged….now i doubt that will ever happen but the other 2 should be hung out to dry.

    2. So, why weren’t they sued?
      And is there room to sue them still?

  15. Rules that qualified immunity applies unless the situation matches one where qualified didn’t apply in the past

    Okay so everywhere and always then?

  16. Anticop bigots can suck it!

    If prosecutors and judges get ABSOLUTE immunity – for their decisions made from the safety of a desk and with plenty of time for reflection in most cases, then we CERTAINLY get qualified immunity for decisions made in the heat of battle, stress, or conflict

    Respect for police is at a 40 yr high, the bigots (who ignore 5 studies showing no anti black bias in police shootings) in BLM and the White House and the MSM have caused a massive two year spike in crime after decades of falling crime (depolicing after throwing cops under the bus – Baltimore hit an all time high – violent crime spiking after the ridiculous Freddie Gray indictments – Mosby is now under fire and possible disbarment/prosecution) and the public has backlashed against this anti cop nonsense as the polls show

    Qualified Immunity ftw!

    and don’t tell me you can’t sue cops for misconduct

    I’ve won TWO lawsuits against police misconduct (police administration) … it most definitely can be done

    1. Battle…..jesus….Thats right the US streets are a war zone for you. At least you can defend yourself in chicago (if a agent of the state)

      A pleb like me just doesn’t go to the city and waits for his chance to move to Kentucky so i can walk around with my five-seven on my thigh with my custom copper rounds in peace.

      Race isn’t an issue in police shootings. Its a stupid point and distracts from the real issue. Complete lack of accountability.

      I talked to a lawyer about suing my town police and the lawyer simply stated if you aren’t shot or beaten it doesn’t matter even is illegally detained. Judges don’t care as long as the police state is soft….awesome.

      1. I totally forgot the rules of engagement my unit and buddies had to follow in a real fucking war zone. I feel so fucking sad for you pussy.

      2. Is this actually dunphy or someone trolling/sarcing under his name?

        I don’t recall seeing anyone mentioning stuff about this mook.

  17. There are other issues besides qualified immunity that makes suing police officers an ineffective means of curbing bad police behavior.

    First, in most states, either by law or by labor contract, the public entity that employs the police officer, (read: taxpayers like you and me), must provide the officer who is sued with a legal defense, either by providing an attorney or paying for the officer’s choice of attorney. And if a judgment is entered against the officer, either by law or by contract, the public entity (again read: taxpayers like you and me) will indemnify the officer for everything except punitive damages, which are rarely awarded.

    In my 33 years of experience representing municipalities, everyone knows that the public entity (once again read: taxpayers like you and me) is the real deep pocket, and that the officers involved are sued simply to ramp up the costs of litigation and to increase the pressure to settle. And most cases settle with the public entity agreeing to trade a large sum of money in exchange for a dismissal of the complaint and a denial of wrongdoing on anyone’s part, meaning that the offending officer gets of Scot-free.

    Unless these laws and contract provisions are changed, and until the public entities leave the offending officers to twist in the wind on their own, litigation will not improve police behavior even if the law of qualified immunity is overturned.

  18. The 21st century Supreme Court is a very weak reed on which to trust your civil liberties. They have become a panel of fourteen year-old “police groupies”. Between this case and Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court has relieved the police of ALL accountability to citizens. If the courts offer no redress, where does an injured citizen look …? NOTE that “implied (judge made up) immunity bars all claims federal or state.

  19. You fire a gun at a Police Officer, you get shot…..sometimes you die…..Case Closed!
    This was not a case of “police violence”.

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