Qualified Immunity

New York City Ends Qualified Immunity for Police Officers

It is the first city in the U.S. to do so.

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The New York City Council on Thursday voted to end qualified immunity for police officers, becoming the first city in the country to take such a step. Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated that he will sign the measure.

The legal doctrine of qualified immunity makes it notoriously difficult to sue government officials when they violate your rights, requiring plaintiffs to find a previous court precedent that addresses a case with almost identical facts.

In a statement, the council said the legislation will protect "New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense."

Per the bill, victims of police misconduct would be able to sue officers under local statutes, as qualified immunity remains in place at the federal level. Colorado and Connecticut last year passed similar pieces of legislation, and several other states are considering joining them, including New Mexico and Florida.

In the current moment, such localized action is arguably the best option for plaintiffs, with a fragmented Congress and the Supreme Court unwilling to fundamentally reconsider the doctrine. Former Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) introduced a bill to end qualified immunity for all state actors in June 2020: It achieved tripartisan support but never received a vote. (Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.), Amash's original co-sponsor, reintroduced the bill earlier this month.) The Justice in Policing Act, recently passed by the U.S. House, also eliminates qualified immunity for law enforcement, though if the filibuster remains intact it is unlikely to pass the Senate.

While the Court has sent a few promising messages on qualified immunity this session, it has repeatedly refused to assess it wholesale. That lack of ownership has drawn critiques from those who point out that it was the Court itself that conjured qualified immunity into existence.

Most recently, the justices declined to hear an appeal from a man who was beaten and arrested by two cops for standing outside of his own house. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit awarded the pair of officers qualified immunity.

The legal doctrine is supposed to protect state actors from vacuous civil suits. Instead, it protects them from meritorious ones. Qualified immunity has shielded two cops who stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant, a cop who shot a 10-year-old, a cop who ruined a man's car during a bogus drug search, a prison guard who hid while an escaped inmate raped a nurse, two cops who sicced a police dog on a surrendered suspect, a cop who caused lasting damage to a man he apprehended by kneeing him in the eye 20 to 30 times, and a cop who shot a 15-year-old, among others.

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  1. NYC finally did something right.

    1. We will see. The laws have been poorly written and upheld because it protects everyone with the same blanket no matter what.

      However, this is being treated as an all or nothing, which is just the pendulum swinging too far the other direction and just as stupid. I suspect crime will skyrocket because police officers will be weighing every move and response with uncertainty as to whether they will be dragged into court in a vacuous lawsuit for the sake of harassment. There will be a plethora of lawyers who see this as the more lucrative course over being an ambulance chaser. Every call becomes a personal liability for the officer versus the alternative, just show up to take the statements after the fact with no liability.

      Time will tell and I’m not arguing for QI, but that there are logical consequences, and it doesn’t matter what any of us think. What matters is the perception by the officers and how it changes how/if they respond.

      1. If police wanted reasonable reform, they had every opportunity to do it themselves with robust accountability. instead they fight accountability every step of the way. when they start winning about how they “can’t do their jobs” I won’t have any capacity to beleive them, because we’ve heard this nonsense before. Sure democrats will bungle it, because that’s that democrats do, but if there is a skyrocketing crime rate it’ll be because the police are doing an illegal sit in more than because they are legitimately afraid that good policing will get them sued.

        QI was a relatively recent invention of the court, police were not sued into oblivion before. Frivolous suits against police can still be tossed just like any other frivolous suits, their unions will still cover their bills, and they can keep liability insurance from the union, department, or even city much like they do now. In addition there’s no real evidence that aggressive tactics and this “warrior cop” nonsense that leads to most of it does squat to either protect police or drive down crime. Keep in mind that trust in law enforcement is a huge predictor of local crime, and QI has been eroding that.

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      2. “I suspect crime will skyrocket because police officers will be weighing every move and response with uncertainty as to whether they will be dragged into court in a vacuous lawsuit for the sake of harassment.”

        This. You thought you saw, “Smile and wave, boys!,” before… You’d have to be an idiot to get involved in anything as a cop after this.

        But Reason, and Libertarians, can virtue signal. And Society will get even more violent and low-trust. Which is the most important thing for the powers that be, and their desperate fringe courtiers, like Reason.

    2. If you can’t abuse the public with impunity, there’s no point in being a cop. At least I hope it works out that way.

      1. No one abuse the public with impunity, see: litigation pursuant to U.S.C. Section 1983. Suits against cops are filed every single day.

    3. Not a chance this is right. Now all of the pedo’s, rapists and murders will sue the police for being rough even when they don’t comply. NY is in for a long hard ride after this. Cops won’t do their jobs now. Mark my words.

      1. All NYC did was confer a right on NY citizens that mirrored what they already had in the 4th and 14th amendments… and that’s by their own admission within the legislation. This hasn’t ended anything.

      2. IIRC, crime went down the last time the NYC police went on strike. Cops not “doing their jobs” isn’t so bad when they prefer looking for victimless crime and revenue opportunities to the hard and sometimes dangerous work of solving thefts and violent crime.

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  2. Do they have the authority to do that? Do people file civil suits under city statutes?

    1. They will now…

      1. Cities usually cannot create their own tort laws. We will see if this lasts or has any real effect.

        1. Yeah, that’s more the wheelhouse of insane california judges…

  3. But we still can’t sue the Governor, right? Just the people who carry out his diktats?

    1. If you try to sue Cuomo, he’ll sign an executive order forcing you to house patients with various infectious diseases.

  4. “The Justice in Policing Act, recently passed by the U.S. House, also eliminates qualified immunity for law enforcement, though if the filibuster remains intact it is unlikely to pass the Senate.”

    Yeah I knew you guys would find a way to help end the filibuster.

    1. Yeah the evil party can posture and pass anything they think will buy a few votes as long as the stupids can kill it in the legislative womb. Somehow it always seems to change once their cop union benefactors decide it might actually happen.

      1. I have been harmed by an action taken by the county permit office. The actor was protected by qualified immunity.

  5. Tri Partisan support. Funny stuff Billy.

  6. The solution to police abuses isn’t to end QI but to ratchet down the wars on drugs and guns and reduce funding to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This new policy will backfire because it incentivizes lawsuits against the police and thereby reduces the quality of policing. Crime will increase and criminals will entrap the police in impossible situations. For example, a ‘mentally ill’ person will wander onto an active crime scene holding a weapon and will get shot and the family gets a payday.

    Police deserve special protection because they face more danger in a day than most face in a decade. If you don’t trust someone implicitly, then don’t hire them for security. This policy makes no sense.

    1. The cops deserve no more protection than the serfs, um.. citizens/subjects/slaves/peons/taxpayers get.

  7. They need to send a few NYPD cops to learn technique from the Chicago PD. They call it, “staying fetal”. Their motto is “respond to call, point and laugh, drive away”.

  8. Now expand it to all gov’t employees and legislators so they’ll have to think before acting.

    1. + 1 Bill Of Rights. NOt hat they have any meaning after the SCCourt (SCr\Court) Reinterptrets

  9. I’d be more impressed if they removed it for the Governor, Politicians, Judges, Prosecutors and Police Commissioners.

    This is by definition, punching down, when the purveyors of the deadly policies get to keep their protections, while their trained dogs lose them.

  10. Pigs do Fly! Pigs do Fly!

    There is something nice to say about Mayor Bill de Blasio if he signs the end of Qualified Immunity. It should apply to all other New York city public officials, but it’s a start.

  11. Good. Now expand it to teachers, child service workers, polititions, and all other government workers

  12. It’s always a game to start reading an article about qualified immunity and guess how many sentences in you’re going to get before shit gets retarded. Well, it wasn’t long:

    In a statement, the council said the legislation will protect “New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense.”

    The motherfucking fourth amendment is what provides New Yorkers protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

    1. The 4th Amendment protects the guilty against prosecution based on evidence seized without a warrant, but it’s no protection for the innocent when they can’t sue the cops.

  13. Ok, now for the technical shit.

    The Council’s legislation would end qualified immunity for police officers in New York City by creating a new local civil right protecting New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense.

    Can any lawyers weigh in here? This seems entirely fucking retarded. Qualified immunity protects government officials from being sued when there is “no established case law” which says that the particular behavior has been shown to be a violation of rights. Since we already have 4th amendment protections, there is “established case law” suggesting that unreasonable searches and seizures are illegal. So does this law only eliminate qualified immunity where a 4th amendment violation has occurred?

    The law:

    Int. 2220-A, sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin, will establish a local right of security against unreasonable search and seizure and against excessive force regardless of whether such force is used in connection with a search or seizure.

    Why does NY’s rule keep focusing on ‘unreasonable search and seizure’, something that qualified immunity doesn’t protect?

    “This legislation is simple—it creates a set of civil rights here in New York City, mirroring those conferred by the 4th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, so that people in New York City can hold officers accountable if those officers violate their civil rights. It eliminates the shield of Qualified Immunity to allow victims the opportunity to seek justice.”

    I’m sorry, Reason, I don’t believe New York City has ended anything in regards to qualified immunity.

    1. the person would be able to bring a civil action against the employee or appointee, as well as against the employee or appointee’s employer, within three years after deprivation of the right.

      Good god this legislation is stupid.

    2. Well, I’m a lawyer and I think this is fucking stupid.

  14. What prevents the police from hunting people like animals? I am sure there was no precedent to it, so they are technically 100% immune.

  15. A good first step, but too delayed in effect.

    We need their own civil asset forfeiture turned on police and prosecutors who wrong citizens. Seize their assets and their extravagant pensions, for which they live and lust, quickly and make them fight for years to get them back, if they ever do; and they will think of poor officer Jimmy disgraced and broke and eating cat food in his weekly fleabag motel before they abuse another citizen.

  16. How does this work? A city decides to override federal and state jurisprudence?

  17. You guys remember when Reason sort of chortled at the “Ferguson Effect”, dismissing the notion that cops holding back had anything to do with rise in crime in big cities? After 2020 saw huge spikes in murder for some reason, they never revisited that notion again. Good times.

    You know that video of black girls murdering an immigrant Uber driver in DC that’s making the rounds in conservative online circles. Yeah, you ain’t gonna see that here. David Dorn (a retired cop) goes unmentioned here. Reason approaches police matters much like Breitbart handles illegal immigration – its all about viewpoint confirmation.

    Given that 99% of cops aren’t racist lunatics, the practical result of this measure will be an increase in retirement of veteran officers with street experience. Recruitment may drop. More importantly cops will just avoid situations that invite conflict and lawsuit, which they’re doing NOW. Remember, cops don’t HAVE to protect you. And of course no private police officer will ever agree to work without liability protection.

    Reason should know this, they make astute points about unintended consequences all the time. But they ignore it. Just remember, if 200 more black people died because cops held back, the media won’t care.

  18. This is good, but I’ll be curious to see if the New York state legislature passes something overruling this. I don’t know exactly how New York “home rule” principles work.

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