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.