Police perjury

A theme that tends to recur throughout the criminal law blogosphere is cops who lie on the stand. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Amir Efrati tackles the issue:

It’s one of the most common accusations by defendants and defense attorneys — that police officers don’t tell the truth on the witness stand.
Of course, defendants themselves can be the ones lying, but the problem of police perjury — and what can be done about it — is being debated anew. Fueling the discussion are recent court cases in New York City and Boston that indicated officers may have lied and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this month that could have broader implications for cases in which improperly obtained evidence is in dispute.
Questionable testimony by police comes up most often in firearm- or drug-possession cases in which officers often testify that a defendant had a bulge in his pocket — which they thought might be a gun — or dropped drugs in plain sight as they approached him, giving the officers the right to seize the contraband. Defense lawyers say in many of these cases, officers are “testilying” and that the guns or drugs were actually discovered when their clients were unjustly frisked by officers. They also say testilying frequently occurs in more serious cases.

(H/T Rick Horowitz at Probable Cause)
The article goes on to imply that the exclusionary rule is the cause of rampant lying by police officers – if they did not have to lie to prevent the evidence from being excluded, then cops would tell the truth. Bull****. Cops are lying to cover up the fact that they violated a person’s constitutional rights, therefore if we allow them to violate the constitution with impunity, they will stop lying?
The public, by and large, believes that cops and prosecutors are ethical and upstanding. We place them on a pedestal, because they are here to protect us. You want to believe that cops would not lie or manufacture evidence, and so do I. The problem is I see what happens behind the scenes in criminal cases, as does every defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge. As Horowitz puts it:

Believing that law enforcement officers are good guys is one of the linchpins of our society; probably of all societies, even where they don’t officially call them “law enforcement” officers. But to believe in law enforcement officers, we must be able to believe law enforcement officers.
So far that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the majority of submitizens, even though newspapers as small as the Fresno Bee contain at least one — and usually more than one — story almost every day about the illegal activities of police officers.

Years ago I tried a case that resulted in a hung jury, and I was honestly shocked, because the evidence was clear and my client had been caught red-handed. After the trial, we asked the jurors why they could not reach a verdict and we were told that three jurors refused to convict – they simply said, “all cops are liars and I couldn’t believe a word that they said on the stand.” Without a doubt, that was the exception and not the rule.
How do we stop law enforcement from lying, manufacturing evidence, or otherwise cheating in their zeal to make cases? Hold them to the standard that we all feel they should have. Train officers not only to make cases, but to do so honestly and with integrity. Punish officers that do not. When an officer blatantly lies on the witness stand, prosecute him or her for perjury like any other citizen. Allow law suits to go forward when cops violate a person’s rights, rather than looking for any excuse to grant summary judgment. Dismiss cases where there is police or prosecutor misconduct rather than looking the other way.
It is not necessary to lie or cheat to make cases, and if it is then odds are that case should not be made, because there is going to be doubt as to the person’s guilt. Our courts’ practice of shielding law enforcement and prosecutors from liability or accountability for unethical practices does not serve the ends of justice; it subverts justice. I believe that there are more ethical and rigorously honest prosecutors and cops than not. It is not asking too much to hold all law enforcement to the same standard that some among them exemplify.

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