The U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of officers accused of excessive force

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of police officers in two cases involving qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that protects police officers accused of misconduct.

The two cases concerned police officers accused of using excessive force when responding to domestic disturbances. In one, officers used bean bag rounds and a knee on the suspect’s back to subdue him; in the second, officers shot and killed the suspect after he approached them while raising a hammer.

Both decisions the court issued Monday were unsigned. No justices dissented.

Qualified immunity refers to a series of legal precedents that protect government officials — including police officers — accused of violating constitutional rights.

To win a civil suit against a police officer, complainants must show that the officer violated “clearly established law,” most often by pointing to factually similar previous cases. Otherwise, officers are protected from liability.

Police advocates say that qualified immunity is necessary so that police officers can do their often-dangerous jobs without fear of frivolous lawsuits.

But those in favor of criminal justice reform say the doctrine has essentially created a catch-22, where officers are shielded from liability even in cases where it appears they violated civil rights — yet because no identical previous case already exists, the officers are protected.


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