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Sean D. Reyes
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Utah Attorney General’s Office Files Amicus Brief in Wesby

17 States join amicus brief regarding qualified immunity for law enforcement officers

SALT LAKE CITY July 11, 2016 – Joined by 17 states, Utah filed an amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Wesby, a case presenting important questions about qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. The defendants in Wesby are police officers in Washington, D.C. who were sued after they arrested suspects for trespassing in a vacant home at 3:00 AM on a Sunday morning after police confirmed that none of the suspects had permission to be in the home.

“The doctrine of qualified immunity balances two important interests: protecting individuals’ constitutional rights and avoiding improper interference with governmental functions,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “This amicus brief sends a strong message on behalf of a diverse coalition of 18 states. Courts that misapply the doctrine of qualified immunity — like the D.C. Circuit did here — upset this balance, with potentially dire real-world consequences for states and their officials, and thus ultimately for society as a whole.”

Utah filed the amicus brief because of the significant interest the states have in ensuring that lower federal courts properly apply qualified immunity, especially in cases relating to police officers. The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages as long as the conduct does not violate statutory or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have known.  Law enforcement officers, the amicus argues, are protected by qualified immunity from suit when making decisions that reasonably misapprehend the law governing the circumstances they confront. In other words, a law enforcement officer should be no more liable than other officials making analogous determinations in other areas of law.

The amicus brief is linked here.