When The Police Break The Law

After a traffic stop, David Eckert was repeatedly violated by police. Balko suspects that Eckert has little recourse:

Police officers are protected from lawsuits by the doctrine of qualified immunity. It isn’t enough to show that a law enforcement officer violated your rights. You must also show that the rights the officer violated were “well established” at the time he violated them. In other words, the violation needs to be pretty egregious before you can even get in front of a jury. Oddly, qualified immunity actually provides an incentive for police officials to avoid keeping officers informed on the most recent relevant court ruling in constitutional law.

John Wesley Hall says that in this case, the fact that both a judge and a prosecutor were also wrong on the law, and that forced anal probes, enemas and colonoscopies aren’t an issue that have yet been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the cops in New Mexico will likely be protected from any liability. “Because the police were acting under a warrant signed by a judge, it seems unlikely that the plaintiffs will be able to get around qualified immunity,” Hall says. And what about the judge and the prosecutor? They’re protected by absolute immunity, which — just as it sounds — makes it nearly impossible to sue them for damages, even when they’re flat wrong on the laws they’re paid to know, and even when police officers then rely on a judge or prosecutor’s mistaken views on the law in the course of egregiously violating someone’s rights.

Earlier Dish on the legal ramifications of the Eckert case here.