Qualified Immunity for Police Officer Who Shot Woman in Own Front Yard

In a per curiam opinion dated April 2, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a police officer who shot a woman suspected of no crime but who was holding a kitchen knife at her side in her own front yard was shielded from a civil suit by qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from some types of lawsuits arising from the performance of their duties. As national attention has increasingly focused on police shootings, the Supreme Court opinion prioritizes the officer’s view of what happened over the citizen’s, and it will probably make it even more difficult for citizens to recover money damages on claims of excessive force. In finding the officer was entitled to the protection of qualified immunity, the Supreme Court focused on the question of whether at the time of the shooting his actions violated clearly established law. Finding the officer’s actions did not, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in turn had reversed the District Court in granting summary judgment to the officer. The Supreme Court found the Ninth Circuit had misapplied its own precedents and interpreted “clearly established law” too generally. “Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”[1] “Police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless existing precedent ‘squarely governs’ the specific facts at issue.”[2] Applying the Ninth Circuit precedent, the Court found that the officer did not violate the woman’s clearly established Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to the use of deadly force. Justice Sotomayor...