Hughes was not suspected of a crime. She was simply standing still, holding a kitchen knife at her side. The officer gave no warning that he was going to shoot her if she did not comply with his commands. Moments later, the officer shot her four times.
…According to seven of the nine Justices, Hughes’ Fourth Amendment right to not be shot four times in this situation is less protected than the officer’s interest in escaping accountability for his brazen abuse of authority.
…As Professor William Baude explains, “[t]he doctrine of qualified immunity prevents government agents from being held personally liable for constitutional violations unless the violation was of ‘clearly established’ law.” …Essentially, if you want to sue a police officer who you think violated your constitutional rights, you first have to convince the court that what happened to you was so outrageous that no reasonable person could have thought it was okay.
…Qualified immunity has become a misnomer. It should be called what it is, as Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg did in their dissent from last week’s opinion. It is an “absolute shield.”
This absolute shield subverts the basic principles of our legal system. …If you unknowingly commit a crime and the government wants to put you in prison for it, you can’t use your ignorance of the law as a defense. But if an officer makes “a mistake of law” by unreasonably gunning you down in your own backyard, that officer gets to use the defense of qualified immunity to avoid paying damages in a civil case.
…The court’s qualified immunity doctrine contributes to the deep deficit in police accountability throughout our country, which disproportionately threatens and ends the lives of people of color, people with mental or physical disabilities, and members of LGBTQ communities. We are collectively holding law enforcement to the lowest standard of performance, when we should instead incentivize better, smarter, and more humane policing.
The result of the court’s decision is clear. Our right to not be unreasonably shot by the police is less protected, and therefore less important, than the court’s interest in shielding police officers from civil liability for their abuses of authority. [emphasis: peanut gallery]