Supreme Court ducks qualified immunity cases
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt criminal justices reform a serious blow recently when it decided not to hear appeals of two cases involving qualified immunity.
As Reason’s Billy Binion writes:
In the first case, Officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas responded to a 911 call from a 12-year-old, who was afraid that Ramon Cortesluna, her mother’s ex-boyfriend, would hurt her and her family. When Rivas-Villegas apprehended Cortesluna on the ground, he allegedly injured him by digging his knee into his back for eight seconds. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, it was already clearly established law that an officer violates the Fourth Amendment when he acts in such a way with “suspects who were lying face-down on the ground and were not resisting either physically or verbally, on whose back the defendant officer leaned with a knee, causing allegedly significant injury.”
The Supreme Court disagreed, writing that there was no preexisting court precedent quite similar enough to exactly what happened between Rivas-Villegas and Cortesluna such that the officer would have been on notice that his conduct was unconstitutional.
That was bad. It gets worse:
In the second case, Officers Josh Girdner, Chase Reed, and Brandon Vick responded to an emergency call when Dominic Rollice’s ex-wife said he was drunk and would not leave the house. Upon arriving at the scene, the officers cornered Rollice in the garage, at which point he grabbed a hammer and appeared like he might throw it at one of the officers. Girdner and Vick then shot and killed Rollice.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit concluded that, although the shooting may have itself been reasonable, a jury could find that the cops created the situation when they cornered Rollice in the garage, and that such a move violated previously established law. The Supreme Court again disagreed, declining to determine if Rollice’s constitutional rights were violated but writing that the precedents were too disparate from the exact situation at hand.
Constitutions exist to restrain governments and their agents. The Supreme Court has decided that legal nicety no longer applies, and prefers to use the Catch-22 principle of rights protection. Your rights are protected if you can show someone suffered exactly the same violation in the past. If no such precedence exists, then your rights weren’t violated.