Shreya H. Shah

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Mr. Sureshbhai Patel, an Indian grandfather, experienced a traumatic encounter with law enforcement while walking peacefully in his neighborhood. During the encounter, the officer used excessive force and rendered Patel forever partially paralyzed. Confident in the fact that two dashboard cameras equipped with audio and video capabilities captured the incident, Patel introduced the footage to the court. Despite overcoming qualified immunity on summary judgment, Patel’s hopes that the footage would provide clear and accurate imaging of the incident quickly faded away. Whether using a body camera, dashboard camera, bystander cell phone, or an affixed video surveillance camera, these devices are intended to provide safety and protection, but they are falling short of their call. Rather than clarifying these incidents, cameras, especially those of subpar quality, are proving to be a hindrance in qualified immunity cases.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has addressed qualified immunity countless times, but the increased use of camera footage has made overcoming a qualified immunity defense a greater challenge. With video footage highlighting minute-by-minute detail, finding a factually similar case, a critical step in a qualified immunity analysis, becomes more like a needle in a haystack, should the needle even exist. Similarly, evaluating whether an officer’s actions clearly and obviously violated a constitutionally protected right is increasingly difficult when the blurred actions of the figure in the video footage is far from indicative. The notion that cameras will help offer protection to those relying on them is quickly fading and its application in legal analysis is suboptimal as applied to a qualified immunity analysis.