SCOTUS judge: 'Disturbing trend' in how court deals with police misconduct cases

Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued the courts "rarely intervene" when officers have been "wrongly afforded" qualified immunity

By PoliceOne Staff

WASHINGTON — In an opinion published Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said there’s a “disturbing trend” in how the court deals with police misconduct cases.

Sotomayor, along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, argued the court should have accepted Richardo Salazar-Limon’s case rather than taking the dismissal of a federal district judge. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the decision.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Photo/Supreme Court)
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Photo/Supreme Court)

Salazar-Limon was shot in the back by Officer Chris Thompson in 2010, the Washington Post reported. Thompson stopped Salazar-Limon on a drunken driving suspicion and a struggle ensued when Thompson attempted to handcuff Salazar-Limon. Thompson told the suspect to stop walking back to his car and drew his gun.

Salazar-Limon said Thompson shot him in the back almost immediately after drawing his weapon According to the Washington Post, Thompson said Salazar-Limon went for his waistband and Thompson thought he had a weapon, so he fired. No weapon was found on Salazar-Limon. 

Sotomayor said the decision to not take the case “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources.”

“We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force,” Sotomayor said. “But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”

She said it was clear that “our legal system does not entrust the resolution of this dispute to a judge faced with competing affidavits. The evenhanded administration of justice does not permit such a shortcut.”

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas said in a rebuttal that while Sotomayor cited five cases, there was no published dissent in all but one case.

She “has not identified a single case in which we failed to grant a similar petition filed by an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct,” Alito Jr. wrote. 

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