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Policing the Police: Qualified Immunity and Considerations for Congress

CRS report via LC – Policing the Police: Qualified Immunity and Considerations for Congress, June 10, 2020: “In the wake of unrest arising from George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020,after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck, broader questions have arisen with regard to how existing law regulates the conduct of local police officers. While these issues are explored more broadly in these separate Sidebars, one particular issue of recent judicial and legislative focus has been the doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine shielding public officials who are performing discretionary functions from civil liability. The doctrine plays a particularly prominent role in defense of civil rights lawsuits against federal law enforcement officials under the Bivens doctrine and against state and local police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983). With regard to its role in civil lawsuits concerning violations of constitutional norms regulating the police, defenders of the doctrine have suggested that qualified immunity plays an important role in affording police officers some level of deference when making split-second decisions about whether to, for example, use force to subdue a fleeing or resisting suspect. Critics of the doctrine have questioned its legal origins and have argued that its practice has provided too much deference to the police at the expense of accountability and the erosion of criminal suspects’ constitutional rights. With increasing focus on whether Congress should legislate to abrogate or otherwise modify the doctrine, this Sidebar explores the legal basis for qualified immunity, how it has operated in practice, and current debate over the efficacy of the doctrine. The Sidebar concludes by discussing considerations for Congress regarding qualified immunity…”

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