California makes reforms to qualified immunity
California lawmakers may have passed some truly odd bills in their most recent session, but they also managed to do some good – including reforms to qualified immunity.
As the Tenth Amendment Center’s Mike Maharrey writes:
…California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that will make it easier to sue police officers for violations of rights in state court and limit the possibility of “qualified immunity” as a defense.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) introduced Senate Bill 2 (SB2) last December. The legislation amends existing state law that creates a cause of action in state courts to sue a “person or persons, whether or not acting under color of law, interferes or attempts to interfere, by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any individual or individuals of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state.”
The Tom Bane Civil Rights Act was originally enacted to address “hate crimes,” but it has also been used to sue police officers who violate individual rights. Qualified immunity is not a defense under the law, but according to Mission Local, “It still grants police officers immunity for certain major offenses, critics say, and it has been ‘mangled’ by the courts over its three-decade lifespan.”
That doesn’t mean legislators completely ended qualified immunity in the state:
During the amendment process, sections were stripped from the bill that would have eliminated qualified immunity completely. Under the new law, state court precedent that requires individuals to show there was a “specific intent” to interfere with someone’s constitutional rights, or that the interference was “deliberate or spiteful” will remain in place. As Forbes reported, “That has made it fiendishly difficult for victims to win in court. An earlier version of the bill was amended to close this loophole, but ultimately that amendment was itself amended out to secure the bill’s passage.”
Even with those protections in place, police lobbyists vigorously opposed the measure. Police unions claimed the law could result in “financial” ruin for police officers.
The easy way to avoid that? Respect the constitution. And when in doubt, respect it anyway.