Saturday, July 27, 2013

OFFICERS WHO LIE IN POLICE REPORTS OR UNDER OATH SHOULD BE DISCIPLINED & PROSECUTED FOR PERJURY



If a law enforcement officer deliberately gives false evidence under oath the officer should not only be disciplined within the force, but lose his job. Shouldn't that officer also face appropriate criminal charges? 

Pinocchio-1940-poster.jpg In Tampa Bay and Clearwater Florida police make up facts to become Officer Pinocchio lying on police reports and during testimony.
Officer Pinocchio smells Marijuana
Yet in Florida it's very rare to find prosecutors willing to charge police officers with perjury. The problem often originates in the first incident reports created by officers after arrests are made. 

Prosecutors see that officers make many factual errors from the very beginning of each case. After all, no one is perfect. Nor could one reasonably expect an exact rendition of facts. 

Yet Clearwater criminal defense attorneys often find that the initial incident reports are replete with factual errors that place those arrested by officers at a disadvantage while helping police make easy arrests. Too often police are willing to break or bend the law based on their mere suspicions of wrongdoing. And officers know that most folks whom they arrest do not have the means to fight the criminal system in a quest for justice.

Police first learn to bend the truth to become effective law enforcement officers. In fact, while I was a prosecutor it was clear that officers were routinely taught that there was no need to be truthful to defendants during investigations. Further, officers are told that if they find evidence of crime they should exploit the discovery by searching for further evidence. 

Here in Tampa Bay, Florida officers are taught that if they smell marijuana they can search a vehicle or even someone's home without a search warrant. Naturally every officer too lazy to get a proper warrant somehow smells marijuana even when it's not at the crime scene. No wonder the typical officers' nose is so very long, as for centuries they've been bred for smelling efficiency mixed with the wooden bearing of Pinocchio.

I had a client who was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine because the arresting officer searched the vehicle without a warrant after smelling marijuana. But miracle of miracles there was no marijuana in the car at all only a hell of a lot of methamphetamine. Was the Tampa officer lying? Here's his explanation:
The car was clearly being used for trafficking drugs. The distinct odor of marijuana I smelled came from the trunk area of the vehicle. It's clear that the trunk area must have been where the marijuana had been stored. 
The Defendant obviously had just made a delivery of the marijuana probably only minutes before I made the stop of the vehicle for a bad tag.
With a little prodding he'd have happily divined the quantity in each bag, the grade of marijuana and it's unique hallucinogenic affects. 

In another case which the state attorney's office no filed and dismissed, officers keen sense of smell helped them gain entry into a home where sure enough after turning the house inside and out they found that marijuana - one lone unlit joint in the bedroom far from the front door. Because the officers never lied under oath about the marijuana they were neither disciplined nor were they charged with perjury. The officers should also be disciplined.

It's not enough when cases that originate based on a lie are no filed and dismissed. What can be done to correct poor police conduct? What is the best remedy that would require reliable, honest police investigations?

Here's a solution that would bring justice to the criminal system. Every officer who writes a report must not only sign the report, but sign a sworn affidavit that everything in the report is accurate, honest and fair to the best of his knowledge. 

Law enforcement officers who are found to have violated the affidavit would be disciplined, fired and then charged with perjury. The threat of perjury charges based not only on sworn testimony under oath during jury trials, but also on investigations themselves as defined in police reports would go a long way toward solving the problem of dishonest law enforcement officers. The role of officers would be redefined as having the foremost duty of always abiding by the law.
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