Police Lie in Court Every Day

July 5, 2013

Attorneys will tell you in private, and sometimes in the books they write, that even though they respect the hard work that police do, they also know that the police lie all the time in court. In their book, Mistrial, Mark Geragos and Pat Harris suggest that this dishonesty is almost always well-intentioned. The officer truly thinks a defendant is a criminal, so he "remembers" more than what actually happened, in order to get the "scumbag" off the street. This is not merely speculation. They and other lawyers regularly catch officers lying under oath.

I have my own experiences with this as well. When I was seventeen I was living alone in a cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The first time I learned how easily authorities will lie I was actually guilty. Being on a tight budget I had speared a large northern pike in open water one night, which would provide me food for days. This would have been legal through the nearby ice on the lake, but that was less convenient than fishing from the stream bank where I was. Two officers from the Department of Natural Resources suddenly came out from behind a nearby cabin and chased after me. I lost them in the woods and went through the snow and swamps for a mile until I reached a neighbor's goat farm.

There is more to the story, including a disguise and meeting the officers two more times as they decided whether to arrest or ticket me, but to get to the point, they visited one day and lied. Actually there were several lies, starting with the claim that they got fingerprints off the spear, which they had recovered. The handle was made of old pitted metal and it fell in the stream during the chase. There was no way they got a print, but they figured they could intimidate a seventeen-year-old young man into a confession. This lie would not have made it to court, of course, since they had no print.

But then they had me try on a baseball cap they say they recovered. Afterward one officer took it back and held up a piece of hair, saying that they had recovered that from the hat as well. It was not even in a plastic bag. He actually stuck it loosely into his pocket, as though that was how he was going to save this "evidence." Of course, he could have pulled a hair off the hat I had just tried on, and put that in an evidence bag, saying he recovered it from the crime scene.

In the end they issued a ticket, and I asked for a jury trial. The prosecuting attorney, after hearing my goat-farmer neighbor explain that I was there all evening, dropped the charges. The phone call to the prosecutor from the neighbor cost me a six-pack of beer.

The second time I was in trouble I saw firsthand just how far the police would go to convict a person they had targeted. I was perhaps especially shocked because this time I was innocent. A friend and I were out "shining" for deer. This, in an area with little entertainment, is a common and mostly legal activity (at that time you could do it until 10 PM I believe). It consists of driving around with a spotlight to watch the deer, which are easily spotted because of the reflections of their eyes.

Two officers pulled us over and, without permission, looked in the hatchback of my friends car. Of course he had a gun there, as most cars would in that part of Michigan. They said little, but cited us both for attempted poaching. I asked for a jury trial and a court appointed attorney (I had very little income at the time). Several weeks later we went to a pretrial hearing.

Apparently the judge was aware of their propensity to lie, so he had the wisdom to bring the officers into the courtroom one at a time. Sure enough they had two contradictory accounts of what happened. One said they saw us shining for deer in places we hadn't been. The other officer outright lied and said he saw the gun sticking out the car window, pointed at the deer. The prosecutor had him point out on a map where they were when they saw this, and where we were. We were on one road and they were on another that intersected the first, he said. He pointed the the specific locations of each car. He did not know that there was a cedar swamp between these two places, making it impossible for him to have seen us. Of course, he didn't know that we never took the gun out of the back either. We were innocent, but he probably assumed that we had been poaching, justifying the lies in his mind.

Because the two officers' stories contradicted each other (and perhaps because I had once again requested an expensive jury trial with court-appointed attorney), the prosecutor decided to offer us a deal. Given that the officers were obviously willing to lie to put us in jail, and the fact that they had time to get their stories straight before the trial, we took the deal. We each paid a $55 fine for shining deer illegally, since the officers said it was after 10 PM -- yet another lie, but a convenient one that allowed us our plea bargain.

Don't ever think that the police will not lie, whether at the moment they encounter you, or even in court. They think they are doing their duty, getting criminals put in jail, and so some of them feel that anything they do toward that goal is acceptable. Try to say very little if you are arrested, and ask to see your attorney -- especially if you're entirely innocent. Officers may tell you that, "If you are innocent you have nothing to worry about," or, "If you are innocent you don't need an attorney." These are just lines to get you to talk, and almost anything you say can and will be used against you. And if a prosecuting attorney thinks he can convict you, innocence is often, sadly, irrelevant. A prosecutor may feel he has to advance his political career (perhaps by becoming a judge or legislator someday), and convicting anybody, guilty or not, helps him with that goal.

If you are ever targeted by police or prosecutors, be careful what you say or do. Officers and prosecuting attorneys can lie, and that can mean big trouble, even if you are completely innocent of the charges filed against you.

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