Law Dean: ‘Immunity’ Protects Cops from Accountability


Writing in the New York Times, Erwin Chemerinsky, the California-Irvine law school dean, says that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very difficult to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims' only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise “immunity” as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person. A prosecutor who commits misconduct also has absolute immunity to civil suits. This means that the Ferguson, Mo., officer who shot Michael Brown will most likely never be held accountable in court, Chemerinsky says.

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