by Andrew J. Petersen
Qualified immunity is often the strongest defense in a civil rights lawsuit. In a case where an officer shot at a fleeing vehicle to try to disable it, but missed and hit the driver instead, the Supreme Court in Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) reiterated:
The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. A clearly established right is one that is sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right. We do not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. Put simply, qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.
When the law is not clearly established that an officer's actions violate a constitutional right, then he or she is entitled to the qualified immunity defense.
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