Qualified immunity is the legal principle that allows police officers to do things that would be illegal when done by others, such as beating people to death in the streets. New Mexico has passed a law abolishing it there.
In addition to eliminating qualified immunity, this historic legislation will allow New Mexicans – including the wrongfully convicted – to recover damages from the government when their constitutional rights are violated while also providing incentives for government employees to respect and uphold constitutional rights.
"Qualified immunity is a court-created doctrine that allows public officials to escape accountability after they engage in misconduct, even when their actions send an innocent person to prison. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act represents an historic culture shift in the fight for real accountability in law enforcement, and we applaud Governor Lujan Grisham for signing it into law," said Laurie Roberts, a State Policy Advocate for the Innocence Project.
One of the cases cited in passing the new law was a death-sentence conviction backed by false testimony, given under duress by a witness who was being threatened by Bernallilo County Sheriff's deputies who perhaps knew that one of their own was the real murderer. Though the falsely-convicted men were ultimately exonerated, qualified immunity made it impossible for them to hold the lying cops and prosecutors to account: there was no established judicial precendent that cops can't threaten witnesses, so they were immune from prosecution for doing so.