In a recent USA Today op-ed, attorneys Georgina Yeomans and Kevin Jason from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) highlight the Pamela Moses case as an example of the “deepest failures” of our legal system, looking at how qualified immunity (QI) “protects officials and punishes citizens.”
Pamela Moses was wrongfully imprisoned for an honest mistake. In 2019, Moses had sought to restore her voting rights after completing a felony conviction. Although a judge had told her she was still on probation—and thus ineligible to register—an official at the probation office indicated otherwise. Believing she was in the clear, Moses submitted her papers. That’s when the probation office stepped in.
Officers assigned to investigate had determined the error was due to the probation official’s carelessness. However, Moses was the one held accountable. Prosecutors convinced a jury that she had willfully “tricked” the probation officer. As a result, she was sentenced to six years in prison. But thanks to new evidence, Pamela Moses was released and the judge has ordered a retrial.
“The injustice Moses suffered must also be considered alongside the unequal standards of culpability to which our laws hold regular citizens versus law enforcement,” Georgina Yeomans and Kevin Jason argue. The Pamela Moses case “draws into sharp focus the ways our legal system actively disincentivizes political participation while shielding law enforcement from accountability.”
The NAACP LDF attorneys continue: “While no one was harmed when Moses registered to vote based on an official’s mistake,” they write in USA Today, “the legal system offered her no mercy.” In harsh contrast, the court-created QI doctrine has excused bad cops for committing such brutal acts as “releasing a police dog on an unarmed, surrendering man, using a stun gun on an unarmed pregnant woman, and shooting an unarmed child.”
These disturbing examples show how we currently have two systems of justice, which ultimately means we have no justice at all—not as long as QI exists.
“There is no justification for a system in which misconduct by those charged with enforcing and upholding the law is treated as a mistake while regular citizens have their actual mistakes treated as crimes,” Yeomans and Jason conclude. That’s why it’s critical for states to balance the scales of justice and end qualified immunity.
Read the entire op-ed on the Pamela Moses case here.