The Boston Herald reports about what are generally considered a couple of those “dirty little secrets” about the Justice System. They involve rather inconvenient truths that are particularly disconcerting, and so tend to be ignored, in the criminal justice arena.
And by the way….they are probably truths you have even suspected at times.
The first one is that, sometimes, police officers overdo it when it comes to force.
The other one is a bit more complicated, but I have faith in you that you can follow it.
Step 1- Sometimes, people lie while under oath.
Step 2-Police officers are people
Step 3- Sometimes police officers lie while under oath.
No, this does not mean all police officers and it does not mean this happens in every case. I can tell you from experience, however, that I have experienced cases wherein police officers did not feel overly burdened by the boundaries of the truth.
Usually, these instances go without any penalty to the officer, although it is the crime of perjury just as when one of us “regular people” do it.
Not this time, though.
State Trooper Kathleen C. (hereinafter, “Trooper Truthchallenged”) was facing allegations of brutality in the drunk-driving arrest of a 35-year-old Quincy reportedly pregnant woman. Some have said told the Herald that the woman had actually not been drinking alcohol because of the pregnancy but, because of Trooper Truthchallenged’s assault, she lost the baby anyway. It is not clear that any of that has been verified by the Herald, What does appear to be verified, however, is that Trooper Truthchallenged was indeed being investigated in disciplinary proceedings due to the events of that night of August 28th.
Now, things have gotten worse for her. She is also being investigated for perjury and, after a December 1st duty status hearing, she has been stripped of her service weapon and cruiser.
You see, while the investigation into the assault (brutality) allegations was pending, the trooper testified in a separate and still pending drunk-driving case against a 26-year-old Taunton man in Quincy District Court. In that case, on November 24th, she was apparently asked by the defense attorney whether she faced any potential disciplinary action. Though the brutality investigation was ongoing, Trooper Truthchalleged is said to have denied that she was.
The next day, Trooper Truthchallenged showed up in Quincy District court to testify in yet another drunk-driving case, this time against a 57-year-old Florida man. According to sources, however, prosecutors refused to put her on the stand and records show the case was dismissed.
“She cannot testify in Norfolk County,” a source told the Herald. “Her credibility was brought into play.” Another source said the Norfolk District Attorney’s office is moving to continue (delay) all of her considerable caseload throughout the county.
Dave Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, would only confirm that Trooper Truthchallenged had been placed on restrictive duty pending the completion of an internal investigation.
The trooper, known for her hawkish pursuit of OUI suspects out of the Milton barracks, received the Drive for Life award from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) last year. She has been recognized by MADD as a “scourge of boozers behind the wheel”. Apparently some of these drivers were not big fans as, in March 1999, she was dragged 40 feet by a car that she had pulled over on Route 495 in Raynham. She narrowly escaped injury and managed to break the window with her flashlight and arrest the man.
Funny how these allegations of physical struggle keep popping up…!
In the court of public opinion, as in a court of law, credibility is crucial. Certainly, that is a key to Trooper Truthchallenged’s latest problems. So, in the interest of fairness, let me get my “bona-fides” on the record.
I am not a “cop-hater”. Far from it. For the most part, I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement officials. I am one of those people who believes that most who have gone into that profession have done so in large part because they want to make a positive difference in society. Through my many years in the trenches, I have been a prosecutor and a defense attorney. I have handled cases on both sides of the aisle in both New York and Massachusetts. I have gotten to know many police officers and am proud to count a number of officers among my personal friends. Further, I have not only represented police officers in court, but have also published articles and spoken at various national organizations regarding the state of the law regarding the rights of police officers.
That being said, I have seen instances when I have no doubt that a police officer is lying. I have witnessed many police officers who have been corrupted by the feelings of power they experience and have lost touch with any rational view of fairness in my opinion. This should surprise nobody, because police officers (like prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, plumbers, salesmen, etc) are but human beings. Human beings do good things and they do bad things. I have yet to meet the perfect person.
These things you already know.
What you may not know, though, is one of the common jokes that circulate in the criminal justice system. Like all such jokes, there is truth in it…although not an absolute truth.
Q: What’s the difference between charges of “resisting arrest” and “assault and battery on a police officer”?
A: The amount of damage sustained by the “perp” when arrested.
Does this mean that resisting arrest and assaulting police officers never takes place? Of course it does not mean that. Those things do happen.
Something else happens too, though. Generally, police officers react very negatively to having their authority questioned while “in the field”. They feel that they must maintain absolute control of the situations in which they find themselves. And, frankly, they are correct. Lives are often at stake. Quite often, THEIR lives are at stake.
If a police officer loses control of a situation, that officer’s safety becomes endangered as do the lives of all concerned. As a result, when the police approach someone and find themselves on the receiving end of either some “wise guy” mouthing off at them or refusing to comply with what they say, they do, and should, find that unacceptable.
What happens next, though, depends on the circumstances and the officers themselves (not to mention the actions of the suspect).
This is one reason I keep telling you not to engage the officer in a combative manner. You will not win. The officer cannot let you win. It is as simple as that.
But then, it there is an underside to it. Sometimes things really get out of hand. Then, the over-riding concern that has become a blight on the criminal justice system comes into play. Namely, covering one’s behind.
That is an occasion where, in my experience and opinion, the truth often becomes a casualty and the charges against the injured suspect escalate. In Brooklyn, it used to be called a free course in “Attitude Adjustment”.
Is that the only occasion which might bring an officer to lie? No. Again, the officer is a human being. Further, the issues involved in law enforcement are often issues for which the officer lays his life out on the line every day. And so, they matter a great deal to him.
To many officers, there are such things as “bad guys” and “good guys”. Most officers want to stop and punish the “bad guys”. The limits to how far they will go differ among them. Also, their view of what I do for a living differs among them.
To many officers, the only problem with the criminal justice system is those tricky defense attorneys who look for technicalities to free their guilty clients. In my opinion, that is far from the truth. However, many officers believe that take it personally.
I remember once when I was a prosecutor in New York and I was preparing an officer for his testimony in a suppression hearing that was coming up in a drug case. I was asking him how things “went down”, focusing on the Constitutional issues. “Did it happen [this way] or [that way]?”, I asked.
“Which way would be better?”, was the answer.
This was not an isolated occurrence.
To many officers, if one has to re-arrange history a little bit to get around Constitutional concerns and “do justice”, that is what you’ve got to do.
Of course, it is not supposed to work that way and many people refuse to believe that it does. I have had countless cases when, during jury selection, jurors are asked if they would credit a police officer’s testimony over that of anyone else’s’ and the answer is “yes”. I have had jurors asked if they could accept that a policeman might lie under oath and the answer was “no”.
A police officer’s credibility is critical to the Commonwealth. Therefore, if an officer gains a reputation for lying, it becomes a problem. That may be what is going on in the case we are talking about today. It is hard to imagine that that one instance (which could potentially be explained) would be enough for all Trooper Truthchallenged’s cases to be put on hold, some of them actually being dismissed.
So, as always, what does this have to do with you? Alot if you ever find yourself in a situation in which a police officer might testify against you.
Many people accused of crimes feel that if they are innocent, they have absolutely nothing to fear. They believe that those who testify against them, especially the police officers, will limit themselves to the truth and so they have nothing to worry about.
Bad assumption. Unsafe assumption.
If that were true as often as people think it is…there would be far fewer trials.
So the bottom line for you is the same as always. You want to be represented by an attorney who is experienced and knows the realities of what could happen in court…not what they learned in law school is supposed to happen.
Be smart. Be careful.
Maybe you will stay free.
Samuel Goldberg is the senior criminal defense attorney at the firm of Altman & Altman, LLP. A former prosecutor in New York, he has worked as a Boston defense attorney over 18 years. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network.
The full article of this story can be found at http://bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1138021