ICYMI: For better policing, put an end to qualified immunity in New Mexico

Feb 8, 2021 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico State Director Burly Cain, Innocence Project State Policy Advocate Laurie Roberts | Las Cruces Sun-News Op-Ed

There is wide agreement across party and ideological lines that we need to reform policing in our state. To be effective, those reforms need to be comprehensive.

In addition to eliminating unnecessary criminalization to allow law enforcement to focus resources on preventing and solving serious crimes, we must transform police culture and remove structural barriers to good policing.

Those last two are the focus of legislation beginning to make its way through the state House that would open an avenue to accountability by allowing New Mexicans who have had their rights violated to have their day in court.

When someone acting in an official government capacity, such as a police officer, violates a citizen’s constitutional rights, certain laws and immunities protect them from liability, regardless of the damage they’ve caused to regular New Mexicans. This undermines individual rights, allows wrongdoers to escape accountability, and leaves victims with no way to address the injustice in court.

At the federal level, these protections are known as qualified immunity, a judge-created protection for state and local officials based on case law, not statute. Qualified immunity allows bad actors to get away with outrageous misconduct, even when their actions directly lead to the worst forms of government overreach, like a wrongful conviction. While changing this perversion of federal law is beyond the reach of the state, the New Mexico Legislature can take steps now to limit its unjust use as a defense.

The legislation, based on recommendations from the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, would bar the use in state courts of the qualified immunity defense and make agencies accountable for depriving citizens of their constitutional rights.

One House committee has approved the bill, but it has a long way to go before it becomes law. We ask everyone with an interest in better policing to contact their state legislators and urge them to support this measure.

We owe it to every New Mexican affected by police misconduct — and to the many good law enforcement officers caught in the middle of this broken system — to create a better one.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.