What Happens When the Police Give False Testimony?
In a criminal trial, prosecutors often rely on testimony from police for a variety of reasons, from convicting a defendant to justifying a search that revealed incriminating evidence. The general assumption is that police officers on the witness stand tell the truth. But, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, sometimes they do not.
A Tribune investigation documented more than a dozen instances in recent years of what is sometimes called “testilying” – that is, false testimony given by police officers on the witness stand. In the cases the Tribune examined, officers gave false or questionable testimony but suffered few or no consequences as a result. Testilying occurred in cases both big and small, with repeat offenders as well as defendants who had never before been arrested. Officers sometimes gave false testimony about issues central to the case (e.g., whether they had witnessed a crime), and also about peripheral details (e.g., what direction they had been driving on patrol).
The Tribune describes a number of cases, including one involving two defendants arrested in possession of 2 ½ pounds of cocaine. One of the officers involved testified that he was on undercover surveillance when he and his partner abandoned their surveillance to stop a minivan that had made a right turn without signalling and found the cocaine in the vehicle. The defense lawyer questioned the truth of this story, arguing that it was unlikely that police engaging in undercover surveillance would break off to stop a vehicle for a minor traffic offense. The judge concluded that the officer had engaged in a “clear falsehood” and dismissed the charges. Thus far, the officer involved has not been disciplined, although prosecutors told the Tribune they are looking into the matter.
The U.S. Justice Department, which is currently conducting a civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department, has asked public defenders to refer any cases with evidence that police testified falsely.
According to the Tribune, little effort is typically made to investigate or discipline officers for being untruthful, unless video footage exists that undermines their testimony. And Chicago is not the only city where officers have been found to shade the truth, or outright lie. Recently, the Orlando Sentinel reported that three officers in Kissimmee, Florida, have been relieved of active duty pending criminal and internal affairs investigations into allegations that one officer testified falsely about how the three came to find marijuana in a defendant’s possession in a hotel room. Video footage from a hotel camera called into question the officer’s testimony.
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If you are facing any sort of criminal charges, you need a skilled, dedicated criminal defense lawyer to defend you and protect your rights. The experienced lawyers of The Baez Law Firm represent clients in a wide variety of criminal matters in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and throughout the state. Contact us for a consultation today.