Prosecutors always argue to juries that police won’t lie because they have no reason to – here are three stories within the last three days that obliterate that argument

Filed under: Criminal Law Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ September 5, 2010

While most police officers would never lie to save a case, sometimes prosecutors imply in their closing arguments that jurors would be very gullible to believe that a police officer might ever lie.   Our argument is not that police lie, it is simply that you should not blindly accept all law enforcement testimony without examining it in the same common-sense fashion that you examine any other testimony.

Within the past several days three stories have surfaced that explode the presumption that all law enforcement testimony should be taken as gospel.  In the first, closest to Montgomery County, a Philadelphia police officer gave a statement in a murder investigation identifying the shooter that he saw on the scene.  He has since recanted and stated that it was too dark for him to see the shooter.  He cannot have it both ways – he either saw the shooter, whom he subsequently identified in a lineup, or he did not.  Sources close to the investigation have been quoted by The Philadelphia Inquirer as stating that the officer wanted to be more important, but backed off the identification when he learned that he was the only one who identified the shooter.  If that is true, then he lied just to become a crucial witness to a case he did not see.  As a result, the murderer is likely to be set free.  Read the Inquirer article on this case at: http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/102208454.html?page=1&c=y.

The second recent case involves competing inconsistent confessions to the same murder.   A gruesome murder of a well liked couple in a midwestern neighborhood where people often leave their homes unlocked caused a tremendous stir, and likely resulted in pressure to solve the case quickly.  Police quickly obtained a confession to the murder, but there was no forensic evidence to back it up.  A well-known investigator was brought in as a hired gun to seal up the case, and he determined that investigators had missed a drop of blood in the getaway car.  The blood was tested and linked back to the crime scene, providing an airtight case of a confession and the corroborating DNA evidence.  Unfortunately for the well-known investigator, another investigator followed up another lead.    The killers had left a ring on the kitchen counter, and when the owner of the ring was located it turned out that the ring had been stolen, along with his vehicle, two days before the killing.  The car thiefs had been caught, and when interviewed one admitted to the murder.  The evidence had been planted by the investigator who was subsequently convicted of manufacturing evidence.  It is fascinating to watch law enforcement extract the confession from the innocent man and to then compare the confession of the actual murderer, and both are available on video at http://abcnews.go.com/2020/double-murder-sets-suspects-confessions-true/story?id=11515210.  The complete story according to ABC News is available at http://abcnews.go.com/2020/murder-mystery-killed-wayne-sharmon-stock/story?id=11523512&page=1.

The third recent case involving law enforcement credibility deals not with courtroom testimony, but instead with law enforcement records.  Dan Wheeler had his wallet stolen and the person then raped someone.   The rapist utilized Dan’s name as an alias at some point in time.   As a result, during a routine traffic stop the officer suddenly pulled his gun and took Dan into custody.  The police readily admit that Dan is not the rapist, yet they will not expunge the record of the alias under the theory that the rapist might use that alias again (it does not matter whether he’s been caught or is incarcerated).  Of course, a new crime might be committed tomorrow and the perpetrator might use my name as an alias, but we should not register it as an alias now.    We think it affects credibility when records are known to be erroneous but are not corrected.  Dan Wheeler should not be named as a sex offender if he is an innocent man.  Read more about Dan Wheeler’s plight at http://www.insideedition.com/news/4971/mistaken-identity-labels-innocent-man-a-sex-offender.aspx.

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