If you or someone close to you has been a victim of police misconduct, you might be thinking about bringing a police brutality case. Suing the police for brutality or misconduct is challenging, in part because of a legal doctrine known as “qualified immunity.” This doctrine provides strong legal protections for police while performing their job-related duties.
Philadelphia police brutality lawyer Brian J. Zeiger has extensive experience with complicated criminal cases. He can help you understand qualified immunity, how it affects a police brutality case, and how to hold the police accountable for bad behavior.
What Is Qualified Immunity?
Our clients often ask us, “What is qualified immunity?” and “What does qualified immunity mean?” Essentially, qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that blocks people from suing the police or other public officials for unlawful conduct unless they can show that their rights were substantially violated. The doctrine was initially intended to protect police forced to make split-second decisions in dangerous situations. However, it has been expanded through court rulings to make it incredibly difficult to sue the police for brutality and hold them accountable for bad behavior.
Qualified immunity presents a high bar for litigants to clear. Sometimes, it effectively blocks many people from suing the police for misconduct, including deadly or excessive use of force. As such, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has criticized qualified immunity as it exists in caselaw, saying it creates “an absolute shield” for the police, preventing nearly anyone from holding them accountable for their actions.
Because qualified immunity can have such a strong impact on a case, it is recommended you work with a lawyer who is equipped to deal with this legal challenge.
How Qualified Immunity Works
The Supreme Court expanded the doctrine of qualified immunity in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald. In its ruling, the Court said that people could not sue the police for misconduct unless they can show:
- The police officers in question engaged in unlawful conduct.
- The police officers should have known their actions violated “clearly established” law, meaning a prior court case ruled that similar conduct was illegal.
The second of these criteria often make police brutality cases challenging. Even if you have evidence showing the police committed unlawful conduct against you, you must also show that the courts have previously deemed such behavior illegal. Because the prior court case must be similar to your current case, it presents a difficult barrier to overcome without help from an experienced lawyer.
How Can Qualified Immunity Affect My Police Brutality Case?
The qualified immunity police are granted can make it difficult to hold them accountable, even for apparently clear violations of the law. However, an experienced police brutality attorney can find the right evidence and prior precedent to apply to your case. Still, these cases take time to build, and you have a limited window to file a lawsuit, so the sooner you talk to a lawyer, the better.
Contact a Philadelphia Police Brutality Attorney Today
Qualified immunity makes winning a police brutality case difficult, but a knowledgeable lawyer can protect your rights and demand justice on your behalf. Contact attorney Brian Zeiger at the Zeiger Firm today for your free consultation.