Why Police Lie Under Oath

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.”

The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence. That year, Justice Gustin L. Reichbach of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn condemned a widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department’s drug enforcement units. “I thought I was not naïve,” he said when announcing a guilty verdict involving a police detective who had planted crack cocaine on a pair of suspects. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

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.

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.

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. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in.

cont at
Wow a wake up call. If your interested in more corrupt police stories look up the Miami river cops. It was back in the 1980's. Can't believe this is really what's happening
Oh noes!!!

Police aren't perfect outstanding citizens who just want to make the world a better place? Well I'll be dayumed
Aside from legal semantics, I don't get what the point of the courtroom oath is. People lie all the time in court.
This is something I have actually had happen. I had to pay $3,000 in fees etc fines but the verdict was vacated 6 years after my probation was finished no $ returned. The Police had illegally [email protected] seized a minute amount of a controlled substance.
I am a victim of this to. I was pulled over for a routine breatherliser and passed but they also told me to get out of my car and searched it tabs then strip searched me on the side of the road and after that they padded me down only to find a small quantity
Of controlled substance and in court the prosecuting officer said that the reason for the search is that my pupils where dilated, which they weren't because the only thing in my system was one beer. Point of the matter is that cops will lie to get away with what they want.
this is no surprise to me! minneapolis police put me in a coma and didnt even arrest me, they left me in an alley to be found by a passerby, i awoke in the hospital to find all my top teeth broken off and jagged, i now have a top plate(and i was 26). this is only one incident, although its the worst one, i have been beat by them numerous times, i also have seen them lie under oath...fuck police and anyone with the desire to become one. good cops are VERY few and far between..they exist...but barely.
Another dubious defense of this practice is that it influences public opinion and makes ordinary citizens afraid of the police, such that most citizens are scared to stand out in any way when they're in public, in the hopes of not attracting the police's attention in the first place. This is exactly the implication of the term 'police state' -- crime is low because the citizens are scared into submission, and everyone's got a story of somebody who ended up beaten, incarcerated, or stripped of their life savings just for being a little too weird or daring.
Great article! As has been said, not exactly surprising news, but again I'm always happy to see topics like this discussed openly in major news outlets (well, short of the tabloids).
The_Rogue;11281540 said:
We can't fire them all, so what on earth are we going to do? (be more careful?! how??)

What we can do is trash our current justice system, and put a new one into place. However doing so would not be easy at all and furthermore there would be total chaos during the period of time we wouldn't have a justice system. I personally believe we need to have a revolution though. Just my two cents.
23536;11285461 said:
^if we all simultaneously requested trial by jury, the criminal justice system would be hopelessly paralyzed.


Think about it: they have to grant us a trial; it's our constitutional right. And they can't possibly jury-trial all of the bullshit arrests they make in one week--much less in one year. This would be a bloodless way to change the system.

Great Idea!
I wish everyone had the knowledge/fortitude to do this.

I've had plenty of minor tickets dismissed by pleading not guilty because the cop doesn't even show. (Or the Phila PD figured kicking the shit out of me was better than any fine)

This article really makes a logical argument with out inciting the usual "cops are pigs" or "only criminals dont like cops" arguments.
^ A far more realistic goal is to try and get juries to exercise their right to jury nullification. It's happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again but more people need to be aware that this is an option in the first place. If you don't agree with the law and your conscience won't let you lock someone up for breaking this law then you can refuse to convict someone.
I wonder if jury nullification has succeeded for drugs other than cannabis. People are extremely bigoted when it comes to heroin and cocaine. I can see nullification possibly working for MDMA.
That oath they make you recite is there for their protection, and as a gimmick used to discredit an individuals testimony. I mean after all, if you lie about the color of the shirt you were wearing, then everything you have said must be a lie as well. They then use that little oath you took as a tool to eliminate anything you may have done, good or bad for the defense/prosecution. Then the judge can have you charged with perjury is some instances allowing you the right to stay in jail until whatever the judge has decided is your repentance is paid in full.

That is just my take on it all. Nothing more, nothing less.
23536;11288987 said:
I wonder if jury nullification has succeeded for drugs other than cannabis. People are extremely bigoted when it comes to heroin and cocaine. I can see nullification possibly working for MDMA.

People are so biased about drugs ("drugist", based on "racist") that it is very difficult.
The prosecuting lawyer would refer to MDMA as "ecstasy" and "narcotics" and "hard drugs" and many other scary-sounding names, and most people would vote to convict.
Cannabis has entered the public consciousness as a relatively safe drug, but others have not, even though MDMA, pharmaceutical-quality heroin, and other "hard drugs" are actually quite safe.
Still, we had to start with one, and once cannabis changes status everywhere, it becomes an open question whether other drugs are actually safe.