Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico signed a law on Wednesday which eliminates the defense of qualified immunity for public officials, including police officers. Qualified immunity protects government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.
The new law provides:
In any claim for damages or relief under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, no public body or person acting on behalf of, under color of or within the course and scope of the authority of a public body shall enjoy the defense of qualified immunity for causing the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the bill of rights of the constitution of New Mexico.
Grisham said, while she respects police officers who “work tirelessly every single day to protect” New Mexicans, when officers violate the New Mexico constitution, “the victims are disproportionately people of color, and there are too often roadblocks to fighting for those inalienable rights in a court of law.”
Speaker of the House Brian Egolf noted that New Mexico is one of few states to pass a law altering or eliminating qualified immunity and said, “today, our state’s Bill of Rights becomes a living, enforceable document, finally giving those who have their civil rights violated a path to justice in state court, and holding accountable those who do wrong in positions of power.”
Claims from incidents on or after July 1, 2021, can be brought under the new law with possible damages of up to 2 million dollars.
Similar reforms in New York City ended qualified immunity for police officers in March 2021, the same month the US House of Representatives approved a bill which would significantly alter qualified immunity nationally.