New technology exposes an old and persistent problem of the criminal justice system — false testimony by the police.
“Behind closed doors, we call it testilying,” a New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, told The New York Times. “You take the truth and stretch it out a bit.”
Policing experts anticipate that access to smartphones, security cameras and police body-cams would greatly reduce police lying.
“However, video seems more capable of exposing lies than vanquishing them,” The Times reports.
The Times article shows that even if exposed this risk sanction is nearly non-existent.
More than 25 times in the past three years, Times investigators found that either a prosecutor or judge determined that key testimony of a NYC police officer was probably untrue.
The range of facts testified to are numerous, with the goal of avoiding “constitutional restrictions on search and stops” or to “convicting people – who may or may not have committed a crime – with trumped-up evidence.”
The true scope of such actions is unknown. “That’s because a vast majority of cases end in plea deals before an officer is ever required to take the witness stand in open court.”
“There’s no fear of being caught. You’re not going to go to trial, and nobody is going to be cross-examined,” said one NYC police officer.
In 2016, for each case that went to trial and reached a verdict, there were slightly more than 185 guilty pleas, dismissals or other non-trial outcomes (1,460 trial verdicts in criminal cases while 270,304 non-trial outcomes).
The legality of police conduct is questioned in Manhattan courts in about 2.4 percent of felony criminal cases.
There are occasions when police “ testilying ” is exposed.
In a case detailed by The Times in which a police officer had falsely testified that the accused had a laundry bag containing a gun, prosecutors noted, “there are clear inconsistencies (between the officer’s’) recollection of events and the video.”
It took 16 court appearances, according to the defendant’s attorney Alexandra Conlon of the Bronx Defenders, before the court finally dismissed the case.
On the last appearance, the defendant, Kimberly Thomas, addressed the court. “For 396 days I have been fighting for my life, my freedom and my sanity,” she said. “This has been such a surreal journey that I don’t wish on anyone.”
There have been some consequences for police testilying.
In a police force of 36,650 officers, more than 70 officers have been “fired or forced out of the department in the last five years” for perjury or false statements, said the NYC Police Department’s top legal official, Lawrence Byrne, at a New York City Bar Association event last October.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.