We have officers who lie under oath to get search warrants, officers who search thru official databanks to learn private information, officers who commit felonies to gain access to private property and officers who run tags from those parked at legitimate businesses to later make marijuana arrests. One reason for misconduct by police in Florida is that they are under no duty to tell the truth or be honest when dealing with defendants and this dishonesty may become a habit.
All of these acts of police misconduct have recently been committed in Pinellas County, Florida. Clearly, there is an ongoing problem of repeated police misconduct among police agencies. Even if it's only a few bad cops are ruining the reputation of the majority of good cops, there's still a very real possibility that an interaction with an officer could turn ugly.
What should you do if you have an interaction with a corrupt police officer?
- The most important issue must always be your safety. Don't do or say anything that will make the situation worse.
- Your goal should be to later be able to find witnesses or evidence to establish that you were victimized.
- If criminal charges were filed against you, then you should tell your criminal defense lawyer all of the facts including whatever the officer did that was inappropriate. It's important to let your lawyer know everything that happened and why.
- Officer misconduct is not the same as a Get Out of Jail Free Card. The goal of prosecutors will still be to prosecute any crime. But if the officer's actions undermine the probable cause that a crime was committed then the charge may be dismissed or reduced. For example, in one notorious recent case DUI charges were dropped in the Tampa Bay area when it was shown that officers helped to set up a honey pot trap of a DUI arrest for an unsuspecting man. The officer was fired and the FBI is still investigating the facts for a possible federal indictment.
- Your criminal defense attorney may consider filing a grievance with the police department or asking another agency with jurisdiction to look at any possible unlawful activity by the police department. It's very unlikely that prosecutors will initiate an investigation of a local police department as most cases prosecutors receive are generated from arrests and investigations made by the police department. But this should only be done after a full discussion of how it may effect your criminal case.
As you can see it's important to have an understanding of the criminal justice system and knowledge of the interaction of the various police agencies and prosecutors in dealing with police misconduct. If you have reason to believe you have been the victim of police misconduct in Clearwater, St. Petersburg or anywhere in Tampa Bay feel free to call criminal defense lawyer Robert Hambrick any time.