By: Shivika Sharma
March 29 2021
New York City Council has passed legislation that will effectively end qualified immunity as a defense for police officers.
New York City Council has passed legislation that will effectively end qualified immunity as a defense for police officers.On 25 March, the New York City Council (NYCC) passed legislation that will effectively end qualified immunity as a defense for police officers in cases of civil rights violations. The legislation establishes a new local civil right of security protecting New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and use of excessive force. The legislation passed by a vote of 37 to 11. In essence, the legislation stipulates that if a police officer deprives any person of this newly created civil right — i.e. the protection against unreasonable searches and use of excessive force — action could be taken against them within three years at the local level and they would not be allowed qualified immunity or any substantially equivalent immunity, as a defense. Qualified immunity refers to a legal doctrine that protects government officials from civil lawsuits where a person’s constitutional rights are allegedly violated. It remains an intense topic of debate in a country mired in scandals involving police brutality. Qualified immunity has an expansive scope requiring a plaintiff to not only prove unconstitutional conduct of an officer but also to show concomitant case laws from a prior ruling identifying a clearly established right that has been violated. NYCC has stated that state and federal versions of qualified immunity have prevented victims of police brutality and their families from obtaining financial damages and precluded any kind of accountability from the officers or the cities that employ them. The New York Times has reported that researchers from NYCC found that judges have approved 100 out of 180 lawsuits in which qualified immunity or its equivalent was invoked by the NYPD over the last three years. By passing this legislation, New York City has joined the ranks of two states in the U.S. — Colorado and Connecticut — and has become the largest jurisdiction to outlaw the defense of qualified immunity.