Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro is calling for lawmakers to reform and restrict the “qualified immunity” defense; a judicial doctrine that is very often used to protect police officers from civil lawsuits for brutality and/or misuse of deadly force.
According to NBC News, Castro officially released the policing reform plan. His efforts have already attracted praise and support from Demand Justice, a progressive group that “empowers citizens to organize around our nation’s courts and prevent them from devolving into just another tool of economic and social oppression.”
The group is even planning a digital ad campaign meant to thank Castro for speaking up about this abused legal loophole, and is calling on other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to consider doing the same.
“Castro is the only 2020 candidate so far to even mention it,” points out Brian Fallon, Demand Justice’s executive director.
This week, the ads — which are not endorsements and are not coordinated with the Castro’s campaign — will begin running in the early primary and caucus states of Nevada and South Carolina.
In a nutshell, the qualified immunity defense is built to give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers whenever they are sued due to their actions while carrying out their official duties. This also extends the protections from being sued for unconstitutional conduct to government officials.
“Issues like qualified immunity have long been a roadblock to accountability in our criminal justice system,” Castro told NBC News. “I’m proud to put forward a People First Policing plan to ensure officers aren’t above the law and states can’t turn a blind eye to police misconduct.”
The shield provided by the qualified immunity defense has received heightened scrutiny since Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor passionately wrote about the case of the 2010 police shooting of Amy Hughes outside her home. Last year, the court ruled that the officer was immune from being sued.
In Sotomayor’s opinion, the ruling highlighted how the doctrine had morphed, “into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers,” adding it, “sends an alarming signal to law enforcement and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later; and tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
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