Although our criminal justice system tends to give a lot of credence to the account and testimony of police officers, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest officers not only lie quite often – they have increasing incentive to do so.
This is not earth-shattering news for our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers, but it’s important for those facing criminal charges to understand what they may be up against, and why securing a solid defense team is critical.
It’s a well-known fact that jurors will believe a cop over a defendant any day of the week. But it’s also a fact that officers are no more likely to offer a true account than the next person. Actually, they may be less so. That’s not just according to us – that comes straight from the horse’s mouth.
In March 2011, former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane penned a scathing first-person account of police officer perjury in drug cases, calling it “commonplace.” He said it was not even much of a secret, but rather a routine way of doing business.
The reasons, Keane asserted, are simple. First, officers can and do get away with it. Rarely will a judge toss out evidence of an officer’s search, Keane said, and only then, it’s at the defense’s insistence combined with the undeniable fact that the officer’s testimony doesn’t match the evidence. Even then, judges will usually apologize to the officer for doing so – even though the officer has clearly just committed felony perjury!
Secondly, it has to do with the nature of drug crime cases and who is involved – generally someone who is poor, minority, has a criminal record and actually does have drugs. The fact that the officer may have searched the property illegally or fudged the facts on the initial stop is too often overlooked.
And thirdly, Keane says, individual officers earn incentives in the department when they ratchet up the number of drug arrests. They are rewarded, regardless of the minute details of that arrest.
Criminal justice studies Author Michelle Alexander, who recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times on the subject, says there is actually another reason officers have reason to lie under oath, particularly in drug cases. That is, police departments earn money in the form of state and federal grants based on the sheer number of arrests, searches and stops they make. A good example is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. There is no part of this program that goes back to look at the number of convictions that resulted from those arrests or even to conduct a meaningful examination of whether a sampling of those stops were actually lawful.
Alexander’s assertion is well-backed. There have been a number of noteworthy scandals (recently in Texas and California) involving officers caught planting drugs on suspects or lying in an effort to boost arrest rolls and keep the federal grant money coming in.
Two years ago in New York City, hundreds of drug cases were actually dismissed when a number of officers were discovered mishandling evidence. A state Supreme Court justice was quoted as saying that the widespread culture of corruption and lying, specifically within the agency’s drug enforcement units, was “widespread,” “pervasive” and “casual.”
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers want you to know we take your case seriously. We are committed to conducting a thorough examination of the evidence and testimony for any sliver of potential misconduct or perjury by law enforcement officers. In some cases, it doesn’t matter what you have done or what officers have found – it’s the way they found it and what they say afterward that matters.