The Costs of Sanctioned Police Dishonesty

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

A really stellar opinion (PDF) from Florida Circuit Judge Joseph G. Will. The police lied to get into a woman’s home. This isn’t disputed. They then claim she gave them permission to search further. This, she disputes. So it’s her word against the police officer’s. Over to Judge Will:

Many have unsuccessfully argued in the course of this evolution in the law that in permitting, and thereby encouraging, dishonest conduct by the police we have corrupted not only our police, but also our communities. While it is certainly true that these techniques are very successful in arresting some lawbreakers, there may be a standard to which our society and our government should aspire that is loftier than simple expediency. Dishonesty is seldom without consequences for any of us. When the government lies to its citizens, though, the consequences are dire. What of the societal costs included when officers of the law offend law-abiding citizens by lying to them? Or the costs of teaching and encouraging young officers to be dishonest in their work for the sake of enhancing their arrest rates? Or the costs suffered when naturally enthusiastic officers who are taught to be dishonest in one “investigative” realm come to appreciate that dishonesty “works” just as well when it is not legally permitted? When a “white lie” told for legally permissible reasons morphs into the “white lie” told for noble, but illegal, reasons? What are the costs of alienating those growing segments of the community where “knock and talk” sessions are more likely to become a standard practice? Or the costs incurred when police come before the court, time after time, employing deceitful law enforcement practice?

What are the costs of teaching the community that law enforcement officers, whom ideally deserve the trust of the citizen, cannot be trusted to tell the simple truth? That no one is wearing the white hat anymore? That the ends justify the means? That the virtue of honesty is essential in our families and individual lives, but that same virtue is optional for the executive branch of our government in the exercise of its police powers? A nation founded on the notions we find in our Constitution is surely better than this.

The mother of the defendant was not shown in any manner to be a person unlikely to tell the truth. The officer, on the other hand, clearly lied to gain access to her home. A person who admits his lie in the opening seconds of his testimony before the court cannot be heard moments later to say that his first lie was his only lie. Culling the lies from the truth in the testimony of a single witness is, indeed, an exercise in futility. This court suggests that none of us has the ability to parse the truth that well, and it would be intellectually dishonest to even tread that path. As discussed above, there is a significant sacrifice by the state when it relies upon dishonest police conduct at the base of its prosecution. Once the character or reputation of any witness has been dru11aged, it is difficult to reconstruct, in whole or in part. As we all know, a little boy may falsely call “wolf’ only so many times before no one listens. A simple statement, it is hoped, that does not fall upon deaf ears in the law enforcement community . . .

One is tangentially reminded of the story of the man who offered a woman one million dollars for sex. She agreed, which led him to ask if she would agree for ten dollars. She angrily asked: “What do you think I run?” He replied: “We know what you are. We are just haggling over price.” It is embarrassing, at best, in this or any other case to be haggling over the degree or extent of truthfulness in the testimony of an officer of law. We shame ourselves when we entertain the notion.

And we allow it because we think it’s more important that we continue to try to prevent people from getting high.


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56 Responses to “The Costs of Sanctioned Police Dishonesty”

  1. #1 |  Avedon | 

    I realize I’m late to the party, here, but I have to ask: What makes anyone commenting here think there is something vastly superior in a regular highschool diploma over a GED?

    The former only means you spent a little more time in highschool classes. The latter means you took a long, arduous series of exams.

    How is, say, another year of highschool a more highly educational and maturing process than leaving it to, possibly, go out into the adult world? I know highschool drop-outs who now have good jobs and are some of the most erudite people I’ve ever encountered.

    The principal cause of cops lying to secure convictions is that they are encouraged at every step of the way to do so, from the top – that’d be by people who have been to college, by and large. Those people make arrest and conviction such a priority that they’ve made sure cops know that quantity, rather than accuracy and legality, determine their rise (or fall) in the ranks. Yes, they really do have quotas, although the authorities always deny it. And it is rare for anyone to be held accountable for even the worst police conduct.

    And no, it isn’t always this way. When the police see themselves as keepers of the peace rather than as a military operation acting against “the enemy” (the citizens), they don’t behave like this. It isn’t a matter of whether they have training, it’s what they are being trained *for*.

  2. #2 |  Other Sean | 

    Avedon,

    “The principal cause of cops lying to secure convictions is that they are encouraged at every step of the way to do so, from the top – that’d be by people who have been to college, by and large.”

    That’s been my point all along. But the cops-are-douchebags-end-of-story-now-I-feel-better-about-myself crowd just refuses to understand that.

    You know what happens when an honest cop goes into a prosecuting attorney’s office with a perfectly truthful report? It sounds like this:

    Attorney: “If the knife was on the console you have no case. We won’t issue a warrant for 1st degree domestic assault. Although it would be very different if the knife was found in the suspect pocket. Judge Putzfeld would accept that.”

    Cop: “Are you asking me to…”

    Attorney: “Of course not. I’m just saying, you know, we could issue this warrant if the knife had been found in his pocket. I’m saying that’s the only way we can issue it.”

  3. #3 |  Other Sean | 

    CyniCAL,

    Please see above: you’re blaming the stable boy for the fact that the carriage house reeks of horse shit.

  4. #4 |  CyniCAl | 

    Nah, Sean, I just think the judge should leave the purple prose to those who can form proper metaphors. He’s confusing the message, which was a good one before he decided to confuse good old honest whores with the scum he associates with.

  5. #5 |  The high cost of police officers lying to get arrests and convictions « jefferly.com | 

    […] This decision by a Florida Circuit Court judge regarding what he deemed to be obvious lying by police officers is great reading, even though it’s from way back in January. I just read about it in a blog post by Radley Balko, agitator extraordinaire at his web site. […]

  6. #6 |  Links 6/10/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist | 

    […] suicide is make-believe. Musing on government regulation (about NYC’s big soda ban) The Costs of Sanctioned Police Dishonesty Pope Paul VI’s Error on Birth Control Congressional staffers, public shortchanged by high […]