D.C. Defense Lawyers Should Challenge Officer Testimony

February 10, 2013
By Daniel A. Gross on February 10, 2013 11:38 AM |

In criminal cases across the country, juries tend to give a great deal of weight and credibility to the sworn testimony of a police officer. blackpolicecuffs.jpg

However, D.C. criminal defense attorneys realize that many times, that testimony should be given no more weight than any other person's word, especially given the fact that officers may actually have incentive in some cases not to tell the truth.

This issue was recently highlighted in a New York Times opinion piece, written by Author Michelle Alexander. In fact, Alexander posits that police officers' statements should actually undergo a greater level of scrutiny.

It seems a radical concept, but less so when you hear why.

First, she notes that a number of current and former police officers have admitted that lying is the norm in police culture, particularly with regard to illegal drug searches. A former San Francisco police commissioner recently penned an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, saying that perjury under oath by undercover detectives was often used to justify illegal drug searches. He claimed this fact wasn't even particularly well-hidden, and was commonplace across the country.

In New York City, Alexander notes, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed two years ago amid evidence that officers had mishandled evidence. Further, that same year, a New York State Supreme Court justice made note of the "widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department's drug enforcement units."

It's not just drug cases, though. Late last year, the district attorney's office in the Bronx stopped prosecuting trespassing cases altogether if the arrest happened in front of housing projects - solely because officer embellishments in those situations had reportedly become the norm.

In D.C., a police officer underwent a criminal investigation after she reportedly lied to police in denying she witnessed a murder that she in fact actually had. The 12-year veteran had been off duty at the time, but said she hadn't been in a position to see anything with regard to a shooting on Minnesota Avenue NE. Upon further questioning, however, it was revealed that she had "not been completely forthcoming" in her initial statements.

Usually, though, it's not a case of officers protecting the guilty. Rather, it seems officers have an incentive to lie in order to have an innocent person convicted, or at least just arrested.

Alexander notes police departments and individual officers are sometimes rewarded for the number of searches, stops and arrests. For example, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, a federal funding vehicle, encourage police agencies to boost their overall drug arrests if they hoped to compete for the cash. The rewards weren't based on convictions - just arrests. So it didn't matter if the evidence was actually strong enough to support an outcome of guilty, so long as the arrest counted toward the overall tally.

Numerous other grant programs work this way as well.

Additionally, a number of police agencies encourage officers to boost productivity, with the most obvious measuring stick being the number of arrests or stop-and-frisk encounters an officer has in any given day or week.

What makes matters worse is that catching an officer in a lie can be difficult, in no small part due to the fact that officers aren't inclined to expose other officers.

All of this illustrates why you shouldn't lose hope simply because you've been arrested - but you do need to secure the services of an experienced defense lawyer.

If you have been arrested in Washington D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Why Police Lie Under Oath, Feb. 2, 2013, By Michelle Alexander, Opinion, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
D.C. Plea Deal Without An Attorney Could Lead to Deportation, Jan. 31, 2013, D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog