Term of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Name

Master of Science, Criminal Justice and Criminology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology

Committee Chair

Amanda Graham

Committee Member 1

Akiv Dawson

Committee Member 2

Chad Posick


Recent events involving the deaths of unarmed, African American citizens have brought forth an increased attention to the application of qualified immunity to law enforcement. This study aims to gain a civilian perspective on qualified immunity. Qualified immunity, as defined by the Supreme Court case Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982), 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.” Through a national-level survey, this study captures an overall favorability of qualified immunity as well as explores the impact of race and situational elements using an experimental vignette that had three manipulated parts randomly assigned to participants (N = 840). Results showed that overall support for qualified immunity is split down the middle, but after accounting for other sociodemographic factors, support is significantly more prominent in White respondents. In an experiment manipulating race of the officer, race of the driver, and the situation, the situational elements held more weight in influencing the responses than race. This split in support points to a possible tipping point towards its abolition, as supported by recent abolition in select jurisdictions.

OCLC Number


Research Data and Supplementary Material