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When does qualified immunity apply to shield a police officer from a claim of excessive use of force?

Qualified immunity attaches when an official's conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” See White v Pauly, 580 US (2017) (per curiam) (slip op., at 6) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Because the focus is on whether the officer had fair notice that her conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct.”  See Brosseau v Haugen, 543 US 194, 198 (2004).

Courts have repeatedly said that immunity protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” See Mullenix v Luna, 577 US at  (slip op., at 4–5).

But see Hope v Pelzer, 536 US 730 holding that “[o]fficials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances.” See Hope v Pelzer, 536 US 730, 741 (2002).

Courts have noted that the use of excessive force is an area of the law in which the result depends very much on the facts of each case, and thus police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless existing precedent “squarely governs” the specific facts at issue.

Governmental actors are “shielded from liability for civil damages if their actions did not violate ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” “[T]he salient question . . . is whether the state of the law” at the time of an incident provided “fair warning” to the defendants “that their alleged [conduct] was unconstitutional.”  See Hope v Pelzer, 536 U S 730, 739-741 (2002).


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