SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Now that state lawmakers have approved a new task force to study qualified immunity for police officers, a growing number of elected officials are discussing how the judicial doctrine works to sometimes protect law enforcement from facing liability in civil court.
The federal judicial doctrine says that government workers have immunity to do their jobs, with the qualification that they carry them out in good faith. It does not block police from criminal prosecution, but for as long as that legal shield has been up, many of the civil lawsuits filed against police officers have been tossed out. Advocates calling for greater police accountability argue that leaves the courts with precious few cases to consider as precedent in future civil suits.
However, former Massac County State’s Attorney Patrick Windhorst, who now serves as a Republican state representative from Metropolis, cited a study on Capitol Connection that found qualified immunity was only successful in four percent of the cases where it was raised in defense of police officers.
“The purpose of the doctrine is to avoid police officers being held liable for things that are considered honest mistakes, or things that weren’t clearly established in the law before they occurred,” Windhorst said. “And that’s essentially what qualified immunity does. It prohibits a successful suit for someone who has not had a clearly established constitutional right violated.”
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