Police Reform: Vermont Wants To Ban Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity, among other targets of police reform proposals, has sparked strong political debate.
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With efforts to abolish qualified immunity at the federal level still uncertain following the collapse of Congressional negotiations in September, Vermont lawmakers are looking to make their state the latest to tackle the controversial legal protections at the local level. Vermont state Sens. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, Becca Balint, Phil Baruth and Dick Sears, all Democrats, announced plans on Dec. 15 to introduce legislation banning the legal defense at the start of the upcoming session.

Qualified immunity is a 40-year-old federal doctrine that protects government officials, such as police officers, from lawsuits alleging they violated a person's rights while carrying out the duties of their job, according to Cornell Law. The defense only applies in civil cases, not in criminal cases.

In police cases, this defense is often used when officers are accused of excessive force. The defense protects an officer from liability unless the complainant can demonstrate the officer violated laws established through adjudicated, factually similar cases.

Qualified immunity, among other targets of police reform proposals, has sparked strong political debate.

Police reform advocates have argued the bar is too high to overcome qualified immunity in a civil case. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Second Amendment Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and conservative organization Alliance Defending Freedom have all called in federal court briefs for qualified immunity to be eliminated or fundamentally changed. Read more.

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