In a response to police brutality concerns, New Mexico’s governor signed a civil rights bill ending police immunity from prosecution in state courts.
The bill, also known as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, was signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and effectively ends the doctrine of qualified immunity at the state level.
This means that in cases involving police misconduct, citizens can now seek legal recourse and recovery of damages from public officials without having the case be dismissed on the grounds of a police officer’s qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine often used by public officials to dismiss a case of misconduct against them, thereby protecting them from civil lawsuits. Lawmakers hope that by ending this doctrine, people will have a chance at obtaining justice.
“We will soon have a clear path to justice and a meaningful way to hold government accountable,” New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who introduced the bill, tweeted after the bill passed.
Lujan Grisham was quick to point out that the bill was not “anti-police.” She said in a news release, “¨This is not an anti-police bill. This bill does not endanger any first responder or public servant — so long as they conduct themselves professionally within the bounds of our constitution and with a deep and active respect for the sacred rights it guarantees all of us.”
Indeed, the bill does not target individual public officials who violate citizens’ rights, but rather holds the public body or government agency behind the individual as responsible, and liable for damages of up to $2 million.
According to the AP, the bill, which is backed by social justice-oriented founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream and billionaire Charles Koch’s conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, is opposed by local governments and law enforcement agencies who claim that civil rights complaints can already be brought in federal court with unlimited damages.
New Mexico is now the second state after Colorado to ban qualified immunity, and is part of a greater trend aimed at increasing police accountability nationwide.
Rebecca Brown, director of policy at the nonprofit The Innocence Project, talked about the importance of such a measure for legal and law enforcement reform: “Eliminating the legal doctrine of qualified immunity not only provides financial justice to victims of police abuse, including people who have been wrongfully convicted, but it also incentivizes police agencies to properly hire, train, and supervise law enforcement to prevent abuses from occurring in the first place. While Congress must end qualified immunity nationwide, many states — recognizing the urgency of this reform — are taking action on their own.”
Another bill from Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle and Democratic Sen. George Muñoz increases potential financial payouts to relatives of police officers who are killed in the line of duty to $400,000 from $250,000. The bill is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.