Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why police lie under oath

The impulse is strong to say NO, that's unfair, because police oficers are sworn to uphold the law - just like lawyers are.  But I often emphasized the importance of accuracy in testimony by saying to my clients "a lie in a civil case is like a black ink spot on a white shirt.  In a criminal case everyone is lying - the defendants, the victims who were someplace they shouldn't have been, and the cops  - especially the narcs - who hold the defendants in such contempt that they don't bother to tell the truth."  That's the way it looked to me when I was trying cases for the Public Defender in Newark.  - GWC
Why police lie under oath. - NY Times

by Michelle Alexander 

Remarkably, New York City officers have been found to engage in patterns of deceit in cases involving charges as minor as trespass. In September it was reported that the Bronx district attorney’s office was so alarmed by police lying that it decided to stop prosecuting people who were stopped and arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless prosecutors first interviewed the arresting officer to ensure the arrest was actually warranted.
Jeannette Rucker, the chief of arraignments for the Bronx district attorney, explained in a letter that it had become apparent that the police were arresting people even when there was convincing evidence that they were innocent. To justify the arrests, Ms. Rucker claimed, police officers provided false written statements, and in depositions, the arresting officers gave false testimony.
Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner,... offered two major reasons the police lie so much. First, because they can. Police officers “know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer.” At worst, the case will be dismissed, but the officer is free to continue business as usual. Second, criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record.  “Police know that no one cares about these people,” Mr. Keane explained.
All true, but there is more to the story than that.
Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. 

Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

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