Qualified immunity has taken the court system as far away from justice as any one doctrine can. Rights can be freely abused so long as the abuser does it in a novel way or can mumble something about “feared for my safety” while under oath. For the most part, it just sucks to be an average citizen whose rights have been violated. Unless you can show a court held this specific violation — under very specific circumstances — to be unlawful, you’re stuck with zero recourse for obvious wrong perpetrated by the government.
It’s not just abusive cops that benefit from qualified immunity. It’s also vindictive district attorneys, like the one in a recent case [PDF] reviewed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. A man falsely accused of kidnapping and rape spent seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit before being exonerated by a DNA test. The results of this test were given to district attorney Spencer Lawton, who confirmed the results. The conviction was vacated and the state wisely decided not to take another prosecutorial pass at the falsely accused man.
So far, so good, except for the seven years of freedom wrongfully taken from Douglas Echols. When lawmakers introduced a bill offering compensation for Echol’s wrongful imprisonment, Spencer Lawton decided to start lying.