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Criminal Justice & Legal System

SE Michigan law enforcement officials oppose Congress getting rid of "qualified immunity"

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard fears a wave of civil lawsuits if qualified immunity was taken away.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

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A group of top law enforcement officials in Southeast Michigan are coming out against a push in Congress to do away with “qualified immunity.”

“Qualified immunity” is a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for damages so long as the officials did not violate clearly established law.

The prospect of changes to the law is raising concerns among law enforcement officials, who fear a wave of civil lawsuits if “qualified immunity” protections are stripped away.  They predict the litigation could bankrupt local governments. 

Livingston County Sheriff Michael Murphy is the president of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association. He tries to relate the potential effect of the legislation this way.

“Just think about your profession...You do everything the way you’re supposed to do it...according to your policies and procedures and guidelines...and there’s a bad outcome...you would be on the hook for that,” says Murphy. 

Supporters claim getting rid of “qualified immunity” would help deter police misconduct.  

In the wake of high profile cases of alleged police brutality, Congress is considering stripping police officers of “qualified immunity” protection.    

On a largely party-line vote, the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which does away with “qualified immunity.”

A police reform bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate, but the Republican legislation does not include changes to the current “qualified immunity” doctrine.

It’s unclear if a compromise can be reached that would include changes to “qualified immunity.”

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