Santa Fe, NM — As TFTP reported last month, in an unprecedented move, the New York City Council passed sweeping legislation to go after bad cops by removing qualified immunity, ushering in a new era for police accountability. This move was revolutionary as they were the first major area to make such a drastic change — until now.
Going after bad cops is now gaining momentum and this month, New Mexico became the second state in the country to abolish qualified immunity. On Wednesday April 7, Governor Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act into law which ended qualified immunity in the state. It also allows for those who have been wrongfully convicted to go after the ones responsible for their violated rights.
While that sounds like a no-brainer, as in, everyone who has been wrongfully convicted should be able to sue those behind their incarceration, qualified immunity made it difficult.
“I came within nine days of execution for a crime I didn’t commit and qualified immunity prevented me from holding responsible the sheriff’s deputies who committed egregious misconduct and stole my freedom,” said New Mexico exoneree Ron Keine said, according to the Innocence Project. “I commend the legislature and Governor for finally addressing the injustice of qualified immunity. I hope those few officers who prey on the public will think twice before victimizing the people of New Mexico.”
Before HB4, named the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, citizens had no way to enforce their personal rights and privileges granted by the state constitution when going up against an agent of the state.
For those who may be unaware, qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982 which granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were “clearly established.”
This asinine law has shielded countless bad cops from accountability and states are finally attempting to change it.
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“There is wide agreement across ideological lines that qualified immunity is simply bad policy,” said Burly Cain, Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity New Mexico. “When a police officer acting in an official government capacity violates a citizen’s constitutional rights, qualified immunity protects them from liability. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act finally fixes this injustice.”
The new act has received bipartisan support, according to the Innocence Project, from a coalition of organizations including the Innocence Project, Americans for Prosperity, American Civil Liberties Union, Institute for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s.
“Qualified immunity is a court-created doctrine that allows public officials to escape accountability after they engage in misconduct, even when their actions send an innocent person to prison. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act represents an historic culture shift in the fight for real accountability in law enforcement, and we applaud Governor Lujan Grisham for signing it into law,” said Laurie Roberts, a State Policy Advocate for the Innocence Project.
“HB 4 is an incredible victory for the people of New Mexico. For those harmed by government officials, it has often been impossible to hold anyone accountable. Fortunately, with this Civil Rights Act we are tipping the scales toward justice,” said Barron Jones, Senior Policy Strategist for the ACLU of New Mexico.
As stated above, this push by New Mexico was preceded by New York City and similar paradigm shifts are gaining traction across the country. In Illinois, House Bill 1727, introduced by Rep. Curtis Tarver sets out to incite change as well. The aptly titled Bad Apples in Law Enforcement Accountability Act aims to end qualified immunity for cops who violate the rights of citizens in Illinois.
Naturally, there are critics in law enforcement who don't take too kindly to being held accountable. These folks want a blank check to continue violating the rights of citizens with impunity. These folks have been outspoken and continue to fear monger, claiming it will lead to an exodus from policing and it will stifle recruiting.
In other words, telling cops that they should not beat up and kill citizens because it could lead to them being held accountable, is bad for recruiting more cops.
However, as TFTP has reported, that is a good thing. If less people are attracted to the job of police officer because they know they can't brutalize the public with impunity, society will only be better off for it.