Shielded: From How We Got Here to a Better Way

Shielded Book Review

Following is my review of “Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable.” Written by Professor Joanna Schwartz of UCLA Law School, the book delves into how qualified immunity protects law enforcement officers from being sued for misconduct and how that all is changing now. Professor Schwartz offers ideas and solutions in educating the public and requiring police officers to pay a portion of civil judgments.

Professor Joanna Schwartz

The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1967 case Pierson v. Ray invented a new legal principle labeled qualified immunity. Pierson v. Ray was overturned in 1982 by Harlow v. Fitzgerald that turns on an officer’s “good faith.” Qualified immunity grants government officials performing discretionary functions immunity from civil suits unless the plaintiff shows that the official violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. It limits the public’s right to sue certain government employees. Qualified immunity is designed to protect government officials from frivolous lawsuits and shields the police from being sued for misconduct. It is a defense that has been interpreted by courts so broadly that it allows police officers to engage in unconstitutional acts with impunity. In essence, it makes it perfectly legal for the police to infringe on citizens’ rights.

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The book Shielded explains how law enforcement officers are permitted to get away with it. Schwartz not only describes the many barriers that keep people from getting justice through the courts; she offers a path forward. Shielded consist of 13 meaningful chapters beginning with How We Got Here and ending with A Better Way. At the end of the book each chapter has detailed notes.

UCLA Law Professor Joanna Schwartz explains in Shielded the complicated bevy of laws and policies that protect the police from being sued for misconduct. She provides a definitive examination of how the legal system prevents accountability for police misconduct. The police do not need a warrant to search you when simply walking down a street. It does not matter if they violated someone’s constitutional rights. For example: Enter – Tyre Nichols, Floyd George, Breonna Taylor, Alonzo Bagley and a plethora of others.

Professor Schwartz deftly sets out the process, policies and case law demonstrating how we got to this point where law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect the law do not have to follow it. The product of at least two decades of research and advocacy she exposes and provides an insightful analysis on qualified immunity, no-knock warrants, 42 U.S.C.§1983 (fee shifting statute), 42 U.S.C.§1988 (attorney fees) and the unfair parts of the justice system. It is jam-packed with important case law. Schwartz paints a telling picture of the human cost of our failing criminal justice system. She is one of the country’s leading experts on police misconduct litigation.

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Schwartz’s educational background, Brown University and Yale Law School together with her prior experience in private practice eminently qualifies her to write Shielded. Of particular note is her ability to put forth a human-interest story into each case she explains. Also of note is a glossary of legal terms from absolute immunity to warrant explaining with clarity what each one means – a total of 33 legal terms. Moreover, there are 38 key cases from 1896 to 2009 covering U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Sixth Circuit, Eight Circuit and Ninth Circuit.

Shielded engages the reader so smoothly that even a non-lawyer can follow, appreciate and understand. Joanna Schwartz offers solutions on the failures of the criminal justice system. One of her ideas is to require the police to pay a portion of civil judgments. In the wake of the murders of Tyre Nichols, Floyd George and Alonzo Bagley, Shielded is timely. The book is endorsed by some of the giants of the bar such as Erwin Chemerinsky; Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president and director counsel of NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Kimberle Crenshaw of Columbia Law School to name a few. Shielded is an essential read for lawyers, judges, police officers and all Americans.

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