Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Novice’s Corner: QI shields negligent behavior by the government

with one comment

Sometimes I do an Egghead’s Corner for the lawyers in the audience (if any).  This morning I decided to do a Novice’s Corner, aimed at explaining the more fundamental parts of qi (qualified immunity) law.  QI law has an “intent element,” which means that a policeman (or other government actor) needs to have a certain frame of mind to lose immunity to civil suits brought under federal law.  Roughly speaking, the police officer must be causing damage recklessly, worse (for example, intentionally), in order to lose her qi and thereby subject herself to paying out damages.  Notably, behavior that is merely negligent is not enough — the police officer keeps qi in that case and the injured party walks from her lawsuit emptyhanded.

Case:  CAMINATA v. COUNTY OF WEXFORD, Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit 2016

What happened:  Arson investigator did a bad arson investigation that ended up putting a guy in prison.  Project Innocence got the guy effectively exonerated after many years in prison.  However, the arson investigator gets qi, and has no liability for the innocent guy’s stint in the joint, because the court found the investigator’s behavior to be “negligent,” and not so bad as to be considered “reckless.”

Criticism:  QI law developed in an environment where it was assumed that the government actor would be personally liable, and that government actors did not make enough, as public servants, to be expected to bear the risk that a negligent decision would personally bankrupt them.  This assumption seems unrealistic in the modern world.  It seems to me like the government should be liable for negligently caused damages of its employees, just like a private business would.  I will leave a discussion of respondeat superior and qi law for another time (not a Novice’s Corner post!).

Written by Burgers Allday

November 22, 2016 at 7:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I think your’e right. individual officers don’t pay the damages if they are successfully sued for civil rights violations…their employer (or its insurance co.) does. that means the employer is responsible for the intentional acts of its employees but not for their negligence. usually its the other way around. maybe that’s because the employer can better prevent negligence than intentionally wrongful acts.

    but i suppose whatever the legal rationale for excluding civil rights suits alleging negligent violations, it may also be based on a fear that allowing such suits would invite too much litigation and unduly encumber law enforcement.

    Bill O'Brien

    November 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm

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