WASHINGTON, DC—Police reform is at the center of public debate, and one of the main points of discussion in this conversation is the legal concept of “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers.
With that in mind, Womble Bond Dickinson criminal defense attorney Mark Schamel joined two prominent news shows to explain and discuss qualified immunity, which shields police officers and other government officials from being personally sued for actions performed on the job.
On the June 7 edition of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” host John Oliver shared a clip of Schamel explaining the concept of qualified immunity on WUSA9 News in DC. He also joined “The Rundown” on i24 News in Tel Aviv on June 8, where he spoke with host Calev Ben David about the issues surrounding qualified immunity.
Schamel explained that qualified immunity came into existence because lawmakers wanted to shield police officers from frivolous lawsuits while in the line of duty. A 2009 case greatly expanded the scope of those protections, though, to the point many say makes it difficult to hold officers accountable for legitimate misconduct.
“The cases are such now that unless there is a ‘clearly established’ precedent, police officers can get away with outrageous conduct,” he said. The US Supreme Court is considering taking up cases to review qualified immunity protections, and Schamel said some recalibration of the concept is necessary to hold officers accountable while still allowing them to perform their jobs.
“Police officers are always going to do police work,” Schamel said. “Changing this and dropping this ‘clearly established’ precedent is going to allow for bad police conduct to be resolved in the court system.” He noted that police officers accused of wrongdoing will always have the opportunity to defend their actions in court.