In a February 2, 2013 New York Times Editorial, Professor Michelle Alexander, Esq., answers the question “Why Police Lie Under Oath.”
I am currently handling a DWI appeal. The testimony presents a classic case of police lying to obtain a conviction. The police violated my client’s constitutional rights. The violation was inadvertent due to a recent shift in NJ DWI law. Rather than conceding the mistake, they engaged in a classic cover-up by presenting false testimony. My client summed it up by asking me why the cops could not just concede their mistake, use it as a learning tool and move forward. I left court and drove to another NJ Municipal Court that evening. I watched a short trial. The arresting officer conceded an error during his testimony. This was not easy for him to look less than perfect in open court. Watching the trial was a refreshing contrast to the judicial darkness I left hours earlier.
The culture among some police, with the approval of Courts, is “Machiavellian.” Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was, among other things, a writer and philosopher during the Renaissance. His writings are captured in the term “Machiavellianism”; deceit is justified to maintain power – morality has no place in achieving practical goals – deceit is necessary. When I asked the Prosecutor if he felt good about how the State’s case “went in”, he said, “your client is a 3rd offender.” In other words, the ends justify the means.
In her editorial, Professor Alexander, discusses confirmed “patterns of deceit” in New York where, according to the Bronx District Attorney, “it had become apparent that the police were arresting people even when there was convincing evidence that they were innocent. To justify the arrests … police officers provided false written statements, and in depositions, the arresting officers gave false testimony.” One New York Judge, Gustin L. Reichbach said, “this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”
Why do some police lie? Professor Alexander explains, “Because they can.” They know that when it comes to their word against the word of a defendant, the Court will always believe the cop. For defendants, especially poor minorities, “Police know that no one cares about these people.” Professor Alexander also discusses the rewards to police for making arrests – i.e. the financial incentives – follow the money. Is this what our country has become? America should be a beacon of greatness – of morality. It is troubling and embarrassing to see this moral decay in our country.
Of course, “Exposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers. This reluctance derives partly from the code of silence that governs police practice and from the ways in which the system … is structured to reward dishonesty.” Professor Alexander poignantly notes, “The fact that our legal system has become so tolerant of police lying indicates how corrupted our criminal justice system has become.”
For minorities and the poor, the impact of lying takes the harshest toll. This phenomenon, known as “testilying“, can however, adversely affect anyone who happens to be ensnared, including a NJ DWI defendfant.