Home U.S Lower courts take notice: The Supreme Court is rethinking qualified immunity

Lower courts take notice: The Supreme Court is rethinking qualified immunity

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court provided the most recent signal that it’s rethinking the doctrine of qualified immunity — a rule the Court created in 1982 to shield government workers from constitutional accountability. The case, McCoy v. Alamu, was filed by a Texas prisoner named Prince McCoy. Four years ago, a prison guard pepper-sprayed McCoy for no reason. The officer was agitated with another prisoner, who had twice thrown water at him. But because this other prisoner was out of reach, the guard took it out on McCoy, an innocent — and asthmatic — inmate. Video taken after the incident shows McCoy pacing his cell, unable to breathe.

McCoy sued, but until the Supreme Court intervened, he was denied justice. Courts at all levels had held that because there was not an earlier court case specifically stating that macing an innocent inmate is unlawful, the officer could not be held accountable for his actions.

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