The Police and Perjury

What drives cops to lie under oath?

Police officers swear to protect the public and uphold the law. It stands to reason that these vows should hold true in the courtroom as well as on the street. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, particularly when police officers take it upon themselves to decide who is guilty before a judge and jury can decide.

In a recent article in the New York Times, the author explored the epidemic of police officers lying under oath. Why do they do it? The main reasons appear to be the following:

  • Law enforcement quotas. Many officers are expected to achieve a certain number of arrests in a given period. Even though many states have deemed such quotas illegal and officials often deny their existence, they continue to be encouraged behind the scenes.
  • State and federal incentives. Based on the number of arrests for various offenses, particularly for drugs and driving under the influence (DUI), many police departments receive extra payments, such as federal overtime and grants.
  • Politics. Let’s face it — when the police get “tough on crime” it looks good in the media. More arrests mean police officials appear successful, as do mayors and other political figures. Many are willing to incent officers to make more arrests, especially those that result in convictions, by providing bonuses, promotions and other rewards.
  • Disdain for likely targets of false arrest. Sadly, a lack of compassion likely feeds into the willingness to arrest and punish individuals who are too poor or disenfranchised to defend themselves. Juries are unlikely to believe a homeless man accused of dealing drugs over a police officer, and cops know it. An attitude that he or she must have done something — or will down the line — makes it all-too-easy for some jaded officers to railroad those who live on the wrong side of town.

It is important for the media, public watchdog and civil rights organizations, and the public to be aware that some police officers are willing to lie under oath in order to obtain convictions. The best way to protect yourself from falling victim to such practices is to hire a determined and experienced criminal defense attorney who is not afraid to challenge questionable police testimony.

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