Police Immunity & the Connection to Wrongful Convictions
What constitutes excessive use of force, and how is it connected to police immunity? Holding police officers civilly liable for police misconduct is important, but it is also important to know when police officers, as government officers, can raise immunity as a defense. Ultimately, police abuse is directly connected to other elements of the criminal justice system, including prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful conviction.
In the justice system, granting officers absolute immunity ultimately provides them with cover for whatever they have done, regardless of how egregious it is. One example of absolute immunity can be seen in what the U.S. Supreme Court has provided for officers who offer testimony as witnesses and commit perjury—or lie—on the stand. If this perjury ultimately results in a wrongful conviction, those officers still cannot be sued for monetary damages. As a result, many have said that officers committing perjury in an effort to cover up police abuse and misconduct has become pervasive. The Supreme Court also extended this immunity to prosecutors who knowingly rely on perjured information that leads to an innocent person being imprisoned.
When officers do not have absolute immunity with regard to civil liability, they automatically have qualified immunity by default, which means that they can only be held liable for civil damages if they violate clearly established law that a reasonable officer would know. For example, three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision that had denied qualified immunity to two police officers who had shot and killed a driver and a passenger simply for speeding away instead of getting out of the car when pulled over. Specifically, the Court found that, by a car deciding to speed away instead of complying with an officer’s request, the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and the officer had the right to use lethal force in order to prevent danger to the public.
This is, arguably, a highly dangerous decision, as it sets a precedent allowing police officers to choose to kill citizens instead of making non-lethal attempts to first stop or prevent whatever behavior poses a public safety risk; for example, shooting out a driver’s tires instead of shooting the driver and passenger in the car.
If you’ve been The Victim of Police Abuse
If you’ve been suspected of, pursued, or arrested for a crime, it is crucial that you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. By having someone experienced by your side– ensuring that your rights are protected–you are better protected from police and prosecutorial misconduct and abuse. You never want to enter into a guilty plea, for example, without having representation by your side.
Contact our office today for a free consultation with experienced Bergen County criminal defense attorney Phillip J. Murphy. With over 25 years of experiencing helping criminal defense victims, we have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that you do not become a victim of the system.