The New York Times published an article yesterday that documents the persistence of lies told by police to gain a conviction. Through their investigation, the Times discovered that in more than 25 instances since 2015, judges or prosecutors concluded that a New York City police officer likely presented false testimony. Such cases—most of which are sealed—were identified through interviews with lawyers, police officers and current or former judges.
The Times’ article highlights the common lies about which police testify, including: saying they saw a gun in a suspect’s hand or waistband when it was actually out of view; saying they witnessed an arrest for which they were not actually present; claiming they watched a drug deal occur, only to later recant or be proven to have lied. In two recent cases, officers appeared to have given false statements about eyewitness testimony. “These cases,” says the Times, “are particularly troubling because erroneous identifications by witnesses have been a leading cause of wrongful convictions.”
“These cases are particularly troubling because erroneous identifications by witnesses have been a leading cause of wrongful convictions.”
Why do police lie? According to the Times, in many circumstances, it’s to avoid restrictions against unconstitutional stop and frisks. In other cases, the motive is to convict someone, regardless of whether or not that person actually committed the crime. Some officers have stated they are pressured by their supervisors to write more tickets, to reach an arrest quota, or to close a case.
The 25 cases identified by the Times are a small portion of those in which officers are believed to have lied. This is because a large majority of cases result in plea deals. With a plea deal, if an officer lies, it is unlikely to be exposed: it is rare for a case to progress to a hearing where a defendant can question an officer’s version of events.
“There’s no fear of being caught,” a Brooklyn officer who has been on the force for almost a decade told the Times. “You’re not going to go to trial and nobody is going to be cross-examined.” The percentage of cases that progress to the cross-examination of an officer is quite small. According to the article, in 2016, for example, there were slightly more than 185 guilty pleas, dismissals, or other non-trial outcomes for each criminal case in New York City that went to trial and resulted in a verdict. There were 1,460 trial verdicts in criminal cases that year, while 270,304 criminal cases were resolved without a trial.
“Police lying raises the likelihood that the innocent end up in jail – and that as juries and judges come to regard the police as less credible, or as cases are dismissed when the lies are discovered, the guilty will go free.”
The persistence of lying by the police has inevitably become a contributing factor to wrongful convictions, in New York City and beyond. The Times writes: “Police lying raises the likelihood that the innocent end up in jail – and that as juries and judges come to regard the police as less credible, or as cases are dismissed when the lies are discovered, the guilty will go free.”
Read the full article here.