New Mexico’s lawmakers recently celebrated Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signing of the NM Civil Rights Act, which ended Qualified Immunity for police in the state.
But did it?
Every profession has that one topic that is debated above any other. Yet most involved in the argument have no comprehension or understanding of said topic. For law enforcement this topic is Qualified Immunity (QI).
According to the ignorant and the prejudiced, QI protects corrupt cops from any and all forms of accountability.
Qualified Immunity is comparable to Good Samaritan laws, which protect people with good intentions who try to save a life or help others in a critical situation which may inadvertently result in injury or damages. Similarly, QI protects officers from the threat of personal liability or litigation while performing state or city-sanctioned duties.
Criminal VS Civil
QI has no effect on a criminal case. When a police officer is charged with committing a crime, he can and generally is charged. QI is only applicable in civil cases, and its eligibility is determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis. QI is denied if it is determined the officer acted negligently or with ill intent.
New Mexican legislators boasted the passage of the 2021 Civil Rights Act earlier this year. It was a historic legislative achievement, one that only two other states have accomplished (Colorado and Connecticut), and it certainly won them pander-points from the woke mob.
But in reality it changed almost nothing and serves as further evidence that lawmakers rely on the public’s inability or unwillingness to read or comprehend even a simple eight page bill.
HB4 did not end QI in New Mexico.
The law states that no public body or person acting on its behalf “shall enjoy the defense of qualified immunity for causing the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the bill of rights of the constitution of New Mexico.”
However, Section 3 states that any lawsuits filed under the Act “shall be brought exclusively against a public body,” and that the public body will be held liable “for conduct of individuals acting on behalf of, under color of or within the course and scope of the authority of the public body.”
Section 8 goes further, stating that any judgment awarded under the Act “shall be paid by the public body,” to include “all litigation costs…including attorney fees.”
Qualified Immunity protects police and other public servants from being sued civilly as individuals for actions taken under the protection of the state or municipality.
It Gets Better
Not only can a citizen not sue a police officer for claims of civil rights violations, but Section 10 of bill specifically preserves judicial and legislative immunity. Meaning you still cannot file a civil suit against judges, attorneys or politicians.
And none of this infringes on the federal Qualified Immunity laws, which remain on the books, so any civil rights claims brought against New Mexico officer at the federal level will continue to benefit from federal protections.
As a private citizen, say you are walking in the area of Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque wearing a neon orange shirt and lime-green pants. Coincidentally, there is an armed robbery in the same area and the offender matches your description. Police respond and detain you pending further investigation.
Later, when the real offender is arrested, you are released by police. Believing your rights were violated, you file a lawsuit. You can sue the city and the police department, but HB4 prevents you from suing the police officer who detained you because he was acting on good faith with the information available to him at the time.
New Mexico lawmakers bent under pressure from the Leftist mob, but they banked on the public not reading or comprehending the bill. It worked.
Now they can say they crippled the police even though all they did was ensure a constant flow of money from lawsuits.
Qualified Immunity prior to New Mexico’s Civil Rights Act protected officers from litigation for doing their job. HB4 guarantees it. As it should.