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Qualified Immunity from Civil Rights Lawsuit

NCJ Number
Crime to Court: Police Officer's Handbook Dated: (July 1992) complete issue
J C Coleman
Date Published
13 pages
This handbook explains the use of qualified immunity in some cases where it is alleged that a police officer has violated the civil rights of a citizen; the case of Mensh v. Dyer is critiqued under the criteria of this defense. The interview of children with cult-related problems is also discussed.
The Civil Rights Act, known popularly as a "1983 Suit," provides that any person acting under color of State law who denies to any person a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United State may sue for damages resulting from such deprivation. In most 1983 lawsuits, police officers and their employers are the defendants. The suits are brought in Federal court and allege false arrest or use of excessive force by police officers in making the arrest. One defense to 1983 suits that has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court is called "qualified immunity." This defense is effective when it can be shown that even if an officer is legally wrong in some respect in implementing official duties, the officer is not liable if it can be shown to the court that reasonable officers could have believed their actions were lawful in the circumstances. In the case of Mensh v. Dyer, James and Bennie Mensh brought a Federal civil rights action associated with the execution of an arrest warrant against James Mensh that was intended for his son, who has the same name. In holding that the defendants had failed to establish their claim of qualified immunity, the court erred, because other courts have held that cases of mistaken identity in the execution of warrants do meet the criteria for the defense of qualified immunity. The procedures for interviewing children with cult-related problems are presented in summary guidelines.