The Supreme Court Gives Police A Green Light To ‘Shoot First And Think Later’

By Emma Andersson, Senior Staff Attorney, Criminal Law Reform Project

The Supreme Court just ruled that a police offi­cer could not be sued for gun­ning down Amy Hughes. This has vast impli­ca­tions for law enforce­ment account­abil­i­ty. The details of the case are as damn­ing as the deci­sion. Hughes was not sus­pect­ed of a crime. She was sim­ply stand­ing still, hold­ing a kitchen knife at her side. The offi­cer gave no warn­ing that he was going to shoot her if she did not com­ply with his com­mands. Moments lat­er, the offi­cer shot her four times.
Shoot first and think lat­er,” accord­ing to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is what the offi­cer did.

As Sotomayor argued in dis­sent, the court’s deci­sion in Kisela v. Hughes means that such “pal­pa­bly unreason­able con­duct will go unpun­ished.” According to sev­en of the nine Justices, Hughes’ Fourth Amendment right to not be shot four times in this sit­u­a­tion is less pro­tect­ed than the officer’s inter­est in escap­ing account­abil­i­ty for his brazen abuse of author­i­ty. According to Justice Sotomayor, “If this account of [the officer’s] con­duct sounds unrea­son­able, that is because it was. And yet, the Court … insu­lates that con­duct from lia­bil­i­ty under the doc­trine of qual­i­fied immu­ni­ty.” Worse yet, this deci­sion wasn’t a sur­prise. And it cer­tain­ly isn’t an aber­ra­tion.
In fact, it is just the lat­est in a long line of cas­es in which the Supreme Court has dec­i­mat­ed our abil­i­ty to vin­di­cate con­sti­tu­tion­al rights when gov­ern­ment actors over­step. And when law enforce­ment over­steps, as was the case with Hughes, the con­se­quences can be dev­as­tat­ing.
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