Recent national events have caused cast a suspicion eye on police activities throughout the country. If ever there was a time when the public gave police officers the benefit of the doubt in a questionable situation, that time has passed. Now, law enforcement officers are finding that even once-accepted and routine police practices are being called into question and scrutinized as the public has come to believe that law enforcement officers care nothing for the constitutional and statutory rights of others – especially minorities.
In addition to stories of police overreactions and brutality, there are reports of police lying in order to obtain a conviction or help the prosecution’s case. While this is obviously unacceptable behavior, what – if anything – can a defendant do about it?
Catching Cops in Their Lies
It should be noted that the majority (if not most) of law enforcement officers do take their responsibilities seriously and strive to act with integrity when carrying out their job duties. These officers are aware that being caught in a lie can end the officer’s career and are therefore careful not to do so. In many cases, an officer is not deliberately lying but may have simply gotten confused or not been able to remember the incident clearly. A cop’s memory can be faulty – or the cop may sense that his or her case is in trouble and may try to fabricate facts that did not occur to salvage the work he or she put into the case. Defendants should be prepared for this possibility in every case by:
- Obtaining any car cam, dash cam, and/or body cam video and audio evidence the officer may have through a formal discovery request. Some smaller departments do not have audio or video recording capabilities, but these audio and/or video records can be especially helpful in proving what happened at the scene of the incident;
- Subpoenaing witnesses to testify on your behalf. Having someone else who was present at the scene testify and support your version of events can be very persuasive, especially when the person who so testifies is not related or connected with you (an innocent bystander, perhaps). If the other person is not willing to appear voluntarily to testify, you are entitled to use the subpoena power of the court to compel that person to appear.
- Obtaining any civilian footage of the incident that might be available. Sometimes bystanders who witness a police encounter will pull out their smartphones and begin recording. If you notice that one or more people have cell phones and are recording your police encounter, it may be beneficial to obtain the person’s name, contact information, and ask to obtain the footage he or she recorded. If he or she refuses to cooperate, you may be able to obtain this footage through a subpoena.
- Exposing inconsistencies in the officer’s testimony and reports. Finally, even if you have no other evidence to suggest an officer is lying you can always point out inconsistencies in the officer’s testimony and reports as a means of suggesting that the officer’s version of events is unreliable. For example, if the officer’s testimony is that he received a report of criminal activity at 1:00 a.m. and was able to make it to the location of the alleged activity by 1:05 a.m., you can point out (for example) that it would have been nearly impossible to travel the distance between the place he received the dispatch and the scene of the crime in five minutes.
The key to challenging officer testimony is threefold: (1) be creative and think about evidence and testimony that supports your narrative; (2) use discovery methods to obtain evidence favorable to you and evidence that challenges the officer’s narrative; and (3) do not be afraid to directly challenge the “facts” that the officer is testifying to if they are too unbelievable. For more information read the article on Wikipedia regarding police perjury.