Virginia Police Used Fake Forensic Documents To Secure Confessions From Criminal Suspects
from the pretty-fucking-evil dept
Cops lie. It’s just something they do.
It’s something all people do. We just expect cops to do less of it because they’re entrusted with enforcing laws, which suggests their level of integrity should be higher than that of the policed. Unfortunately, the opposite often tends to be the case.
There are many reasons cops lie. All of them are self-centered. They lie to cover up misconduct, salvage illegal searches, deny deployment of excessive force, and ensure narratives are preserved when challenged in court.
They also lie to obtain confessions from criminal suspects. There is nothing illegal about this act. Whether or not it crosses constitutional lines tends to come down to the judgment of the judges handling civil rights lawsuits. There’s no hard and fast rule as to which lies are unconstitutional so cops do a lot of lying when trying to fit someone for a criminal charge.
Up until recently, it was okay for the Virginia Beach Police Department to use a particularly nefarious form of lying when trying to coax confessions from criminal suspects. While cops will routinely claim evidence and statements point to the person as the prime suspect, very rarely do they actually show this fake evidence to people being interrogated. Not so in Virginia Beach, where fake documents were just part of investigators’ toolkits.
Police in Virginia Beach repeatedly used forged documents purporting to be from the state Department of Forensic Science during interrogations, falsely allowing suspects to believe DNA or other forensic evidence had tied them to a crime, the state attorney general revealed Wednesday in announcing an agreement to ban the practice.
This practice was inadvertently exposed by a prosecutor who asked for a certified copy of a report faked up by police investigators. The state’s Department of Forensic Science told the commonwealth’s attorney no such report existed, leading to an internal investigation by the PD. That happened last April. The following month (May 2021), the Virginia Beach police chief issued an order forbidding the use of this tactic. Since then, the PD has uncovered five times fake forensic documents were used during investigations.
But it wasn’t just limited to investigators trying to convince suspects to admit their guilt. One of these fake documents made its way into court, used as evidence (!!) during a bail hearing.
Now, there’s a statewide ban on using fake or forged forensic documents during interrogations, thanks to Virginia’s Attorney General. There’s been no statement made yet suggesting the prosecutions tied to use of fake documents will be examined further to determine whether their use was coercive, and the Attorney General’s office has not said whether it will notify convicts who were subjected to this form of police lying.
The PD’s apology is somewhat less than authentic:
The Virginia Beach Police Department said in a statement that the technique, “though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.”
There are a lot of things that are technically legal but that most people would find to be an abuse of power. The key is to not engage in questionable practices just because no court has declared them unconstitutional. No doubt the investigators that used fake documents to secure confessions were aware the community at large would frown on such obviously devious behavior. But they did it anyway because winning at all costs is standard MO for most law enforcement agencies. While it’s good this discovery led to swift action, the investigation should really be expanded to see what other unsavory techniques are being deployed to extract confessions.