Unraveling the Web of Legal Protection: Race, Police Misconduct, and the Favorable Termination Rule

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Notre Dame School of Law




The murder of George Floyd raised greater awareness of the pervasiveness of racialized police violence in the United States. Advocates, activists, and concerned policymakers have drawn attention to legal barriers that prevent accountability for police who kill and abuse Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (“BIPOC”), such as qualified immunity. However, the true extent of the legal system’s protections regarding racialized police misconduct remains unrecognized. A key example of this is the favorable termination rule, which many jurisdictions have interpreted as imposing an “indications-of-innocence” standard. This standard, in numerous instances, serves as a procedural loophole that prevents civil rights redress against police officers who bring false criminal charges. Since there are many well documented examples of police targeting BIPOC with false charges, the indications-of-innocence standard has a racist impact. This essay examines how the indications-of-innocence standard serves as one thread in a vast invisible web of legal protections that enables racialized police misconduct.

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