Police Testimony Requires Tough Scrutiny

Early this month, the headline from The New York Time’s Sunday editorial page blared, “Why Police Lie Under Oath.” The article made the case that officers are not just sometimes dishonest, but routinely so and in fact have incentives for lying. stampoffinger1.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale Criminal defense attorneys found it interesting that the very next day, an extensive investigation into Florida law enforcement misconduct – and lack of discipline for it – was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Meanwhile, the Sun Sentinel was in the midst of covering the opening of a trial for a police officer charged with four felonies and four misdemeanors connected to accusations that he falsified public records in order to cover up an unjustified car chase.

It’s worth underscoring the prevalence and potential reasons behind it to drive home this point: Your defense attorney has ample reason to carefully scrutinize the account of the officers involved in your case. When the facts don’t add up – judges and juries need to hear it.

Even if the lies of an officer or team of officers are mere slight exaggeration or when they involve other cases, they can’t be overlooked. An officer who displays a willingness to “fudge the truth” inevitably casts a long shadow of doubt on his credibility.

Unfortunately, even though law enforcement authorities have proven time and again to be untrustworthy, prosecutors, juries and judges tend to give their word a great deal of credence. So when it is your word against theirs, any opportunity to find weakness or flaws or outright lies in their testimony needs to be fully explored.

Author Michelle Alexander writes in her New York Times’ piece that the testimony of a police officer shouldn’t be given any more weight than any other witness. In fact, there is a fair amount of evidence that he or she should be given less so – especially in drug cases.

Alexander admits that may seem a harsh line, but those within the field have been even harsher. Former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane recently wrote an editorial for the local newspaper there saying that police officer perjury in justifying illegal drug searches is “commonplace.” In New York City, a State Supreme Court Justice admonished the “widespread culture of lying and corruption” in the police department’s narcotics units.

Alexander goes on to point out that there are usually federal financial incentives tied to arrest rolls – particularly in drug units – meaning agencies have a compelling reason to make as many arrests as possible, regardless of whether the facts will actually stand up in court. And many times, even false testimony of officers’ does stand up in court because either nobody steps up to challenge it or the defense attorney is only concerned with working out a plea deal, rather than vigorously fighting the charge.

In Florida, the Herald-Tribune found countless incidents over the last 12 months in which officers in the Sunshine state lied under oath, cheated on exams or were arrested for criminal offenses. Almost every time, he or she returned to work.

In Fort Lauderdale, two detectives were accused of conspiring to cover up a high-speed chase involving an unmarked car and a reportedly non-violent burglary suspect. The chase ended with the suspect crashing his vehicle on North Rio Vista Boulevard. Officers testified that they witnessed the suspect’s car slamming into the undercover vehicle and then intentionally ramming it head-on. The accident reconstruction team, however, found a different story entirely. Still, it took the suspect’s family two years of fighting to get anyone to investigate the matter.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are committed to uncovering any and all evidence of deceit or inaccuracies on the part of law enforcement in your case.

People arrested in either Palm Beach or Broward Counties should contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, at 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Why Police Lie Under Oath, Feb. 2, 2013, By Michelle Alexander, Opinion, The New York Times
Unfit for Duty: Florida Officers’ Misconduct Still Going Unchecked, Feb. 3, 2013, By Anthony Cormier, Sarasota-Herald Tribune
Trial begins in case of Fort Lauderdale cops accused of lying, Feb. 4, 2013, By Mike Clary, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Florida Defense Lawyers: Know Your Rights During Police Encounters, Feb. 13, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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