May 20, 2022

Police Lie Under Oath Because They Can

The United States carries the dubious distinction of imprisoning more of its citizens than any other country on earth.  While our ambassadors and Secretary of State roam the planet dispensing endless advice to other countries on how they can improve their societies, we remain blind to our own shortcomings on human rights.

prison_population

There is something fundamentally wrong with a vindictive justice system that imprisons nearly one out of every 100 Americans.

According to Joel Dvoskin, criminal justice expert at the University of Arizona:

Data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better.

A study from a decade ago that was published in the journal American Psychologist put it this way: “Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.”

The incentives for prosecutors to burnish their reputations with high conviction rates that enables them to later pursue lucrative political careers is part of a warped system that measures success by incarcerations rates instead of justice.  Equally appalling is the willingness of police to lie under oath in order to gain convictions.  This unholy alliance between prosecutors and police not only puts innocent people in jail but fundamentally weakens respect for a justice system that is totally disconnected from serving the needs of the American public.

Why would police lie under oath?  According to the New York Times:

THOUSANDS of people plead guilty to crimes every year in the United States because they know that the odds of a jury’s believing their word over a police officer’s are slim to none. As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? As one of my colleagues recently put it, “Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.”

But are police officers necessarily more trustworthy than alleged criminals? I think not. Not just because the police have a special inclination toward confabulation, but because, disturbingly, they have an incentive to lie. In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so.

That may sound harsh, but numerous law enforcement officials have put the matter more bluntly.  Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

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.

Mr. Keane, in his Chronicle article, 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.

Exposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers.

One lie can destroy a life, resulting in the loss of employment, a prison term and relegation to permanent second-class status. The fact that our legal system has become so tolerant of police lying indicates how corrupted our criminal justice system has become by declarations of war, “get tough” mantras, and a seemingly insatiable appetite for locking up and locking out the poorest and darkest among us.

And, no, I’m not crazy for thinking so.

Also see How the US Turns Jaywalkers Into Violent Criminals and United States – A Nation of Criminals.

Comments

  1. This happened to me just yesterday. I was convicted of a crime that I didn’t commit as a direct result of an officer that looked me directly in the eye and lied repeatedly with a smile on his face while testifying under oath. Prior to that moment I had always believed most police officers were admirable and worthy of respect. Let’s just say that opinion is gone forever!

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