Aldaba’s lament has become an increasingly common one. Even as the proliferation of police body cameras and bystander cellphone video has turned a national spotlight on extreme police tactics, qualified immunity, under the careful stewardship of the Supreme Court, is making it easier for officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.
The Supreme Court’s role is evident in how the federal appeals courts, which take their cue from the high court, treat qualified immunity. In an unprecedented analysis of appellate court records, Reuters found that since 2005, the courts have shown an increasing tendency to grant immunity in excessive force cases – rulings that the district courts below them must follow. The trend has accelerated in recent years. It is even more pronounced in cases like Leija’s – when civilians were unarmed in their encounters with police, and when courts concluded that the facts could convince a jury that police actually did use excessive force.