Hundreds Of Law Enforcement Agencies Are Still Allowing Bad Cops To Provide Testimony
from the going-dark dept
Thanks to untrustworthy cops, people’s lives are being destroyed. It’s more than just bogus stops and bogus arrests. It’s more than faulty field tests that tell cops innocuous substances are illegal drugs. It’s more than a judicial system that’s tilted against criminal defendants, even as the system claims we’re all innocent until proven guilty.
One of the reasons the system is tilted against defendants is prosecutors’ refusal to turn over exculpatory evidence. More than one judge has noted the “epidemic of Brady violations.” Named after the 1963 Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court decision, Brady evidence is anything that might help the defense argue against the government’s case. There’s an obligation placed on prosecutors, far too many of which feel is optional. Nearly 100% of criminal prosecutions end in plea deals, giving prosecutors a convenient way of closing cases before they even need to consider their evidentiary obligations.
Brady lists are lists of officers considered too untrustworthy to testify in court. This could be because they’ve been caught lying on the stand. This could be because of a lengthy history of misconduct. Law enforcement agencies rarely fire bad cops. But, occasionally, they’ll inform prosecutors they don’t want these officers testifying because of their internal affairs rap sheets.
This information should be handed over to defendants, but it very rarely is. The easiest way to dodge this obligation is to not create the lists in the first place. If you don’t know who’s a bad cop, you can’t possibly inform the defense that your key witness is impeachable. Win-win for the government. An investigation by USA Today shows the creation and maintenance of Brady lists appears to be another thing law enforcement considers to be optional.
At least 300 prosecutors’ offices across the nation are not taking steps necessary to comply with the Supreme Court mandates. These places do not have a list tracking dishonest or otherwise untrustworthy officers. They include big cities such as Chicago and Little Rock and smaller communities such as Jackson County, Minnesota, and Columbia County, Pennsylvania.
Others make as minimal effort as possible, following the letter of the Supreme Court ruling, but not the spirit. Records are incomplete, perhaps deliberately so.
USA TODAY identified at least 1,200 officers with proven histories of lying and other serious misconduct who had not been flagged by prosecutors. Of those officers, 261 were specifically disciplined for dishonesty on the job.
This failure to uphold their mandated obligations isn’t some victimless paperwork crime. People are going to jail for years because prosecutors and police agencies refuse to hand over this information to criminal defendants. Bad cops take the stand and get people locked up even when their past dishonesty should make them no more trustworthy than the average street thug.
Because there are hundreds of dishonest cops in the nation, thousands of criminal prosecutions are tainted by testimony provided by officers who never should have been allowed to take the stand. When lists are compiled, it generally takes a court order to get this information to defendants. It’s almost impossible to get these lists released to the general public, even though lists of untrustworthy cops is very definitely of public interest.
In one case detailed in USA Today’s report, a man was locked up for 11 years for driving under the influence. It was never disclosed to him or the court the officer who arrested him had been disciplined for manipulating DWI stops to ensure he was called on to testify as often as possible, ensuring a steady flow of overtime. The only evidence against the man was the officer’s word: there was no roadside test, no breathalyzer, and no blood test. It all came down to a bad cop saying someone was drunk. For that, the man lost 11 years of his life.
This is another “Brady epidemic.” This horrific stat was generated by a single law enforcement agency.
USA TODAY reviewed discipline files for Little Rock police officers going back 15 years, then compared them with court records. The analysis found officers who the department determined lied or committed crimes were witnesses in at least?4,000 cases.?
If this investigation shows anything, it shows hardly anyone on the “rule of law” side actually wants to follow rules or laws. Investigations like these will help apply pressure to prosecutors and police departments, but these are the most entrenched of (self) interests and it won’t be easy to change the culture that has allowed this abuse of the judicial system to become so prevalent.