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Abstract

Qualified immunity doctrine is complex and important, and for many years it was assumed to have an outsize impact on civil rights cases by imposing significant barriers to success for plaintiffs. Recent empirical work has cast that assumption into doubt, at least as to the impact qualified immunity has at pretrial stages of litigation. This Essay adds to this empirical work by evaluating the impact of qualified immunity at trial, a subject that to date has not been empirically tested. The results reported here suggest that juries are rarely asked to answer questions that bear on the qualified immunity defense. At the same time, the data illustrate that qualified immunity can be a powerful barrier to plaintiffs’ success in the rare instances in which it is presented to a jury.

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