THE ABOLITION OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY
Most alarmingly is this legislation aims to remove the protections of qualified immunity leaving peace officers personally liable for up to $100,000 even in instances where they engaged in the good faith performance of their duties.
The core purpose of the doctrine of qualified immunity is to preserve the integrity of the profession by shielding good officers from liability when they act under a good faith but mistaken belief that their conduct was lawful. Thus, protecting them from liability risks that would cause many qualified candidates either to flee the profession or not apply at all. A consequence that likely would result in a less qualified police force that would likely perpetuate greater injustices than those that this bill is intending to curtail.
Currently, the doctrine of qualified immunity shields an officer from suit in all instances where the plaintiff cannot show: 1) that the conduct violated constitution; and 2) that the unlawfulness of the conduct was clearly established at the time it occurred. Should the plaintiff fail his burden on either prong, the officer is shielded not only from judgement, but from the suit itself.
In addition to the abolition of qualified immunity, the bill would further strip officers of statutory protections granted by the Peace Officer’s Act and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. Under either, agencies are required to provide a legal defense and indemnification of either $100,000 or $250,000. If passed, those protections would be barred by statute for all claims brought under this new legislation. Under this Act, peace officers would be personally liable for five percent of any judgement up to $100,000. And public entities would be statutorily barred from covering that amount. Further, any amount in excess of the officers’ liability is required to be funded from the agency’s public safety budget up to $250,000.
Interestingly enough, this budget is precisely the budget that funds a plethora of law enforcement trainings and other community-based law enforcement services.
Now more than ever is it important for the good men and women in law enforcement to have knowledgeable legal representation when they find themselves accused. The landscape for the policing profession has never been so difficult. The attorneys at Front Line Law have backgrounds as police officers, in the district attorney’s office, and military. We stand ready to help you when you need us.