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The Reality of Police Perjury

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 27, 2018 01:47

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I have never seen a major trial which lacked significant perjury, and I have yet to see that perjury punished. --F. Lee Bailey

I feel I need to preface this article by saying that I have great respect for the men and women of this nation who put on a uniform and badge every day, knowing that it makes them a target. Yet they still do it, too many times putting their lives on the line to help keep our society orderly. Too many of them do not make it home at the end of the day. Here in Colorado, just a few months ago, it happened to three officers within three months. There is very little more heart rending than the End of Watch dispatch at the funeral of a police officer.

Perjury is the intentional act of swearing a false oath or falsifying an affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing. Perjury is a crime, conviction of which are fines and/or jail time. Most people don’t hear of or think about police committing perjury. Most think it is really not a big deal or a big problem. It is both, and here is why.

Like any organization, police departments are populated with human beings. That means that there are problems. They make mistakes and they do things they shouldn’t, even when they have the best of intentions in mind. One of those problems is perjury, and it is both a big deal and a big problem.

First, it is a big deal because it happens, according to some authorities, in virtually every case brought into court. Some studies have been kinder, saying that the incidence rate is somewhere just over 50 percent. That is still over half of the cases the courts see, whether it is in a traffic case, an affidavit to obtain a warrant, or on the witness stand. It is so common, that it has its own word: testilying.

Yes, police officers that commit perjury do get caught many times. It very seldom gets in the news and even more seldom are there any penalties for those that commit it. Unless it is so egregious that it can’t be ignored, judges, even knowing that what they are hearing or seeing in writing is perjury, will most often let it pass. That is in part because if a judge calls the police too many times on their perjury, they find themselves being assigned to fewer and fewer big cases and their career could run into a dead-end.

Second, it is a big problem because of the damage it does. The perjured testimony could be what jurors rely on to convict an innocent person. If the perjured testimony is such that it can’t be overlooked, a guilty person could be set free to commit more crimes. Finally, law enforcement has to work hard to maintain a good image to the public. Their own officers committing perjury makes that job much harder. It damages their credibility and tarnishes the justice system.   

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 27, 2018 01:47

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President Barack Obama, in a piece he wrote on criminal justice reform published in the current edition of Harvard Law Review,...

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