Testilying

Brady Cop by Jaik Puppyteeth

Police perjury (or testilying in U.S. police slang) is the act of a police officer giving false testimony. It is typically used in a criminal trial to ‘make the case’ against a defendant believed by the police to be guilty when irregularities during the suspect’s arrest or search threaten to result in acquittal.

It also can be extended further to encompass substantive misstatements of fact for the purpose of convicting those whom the police believe to be guilty, procedural misstatements to ‘justify’ a search and seizure, or even to include statements to frame an innocent citizen.

The extent of the practice is hotly debated. Rank and file policemen, police advocates and police unions acknowledge that it does occur but deny that it is widespread or systemic.[citation needed] Defense attorney Alan Dershowitz argued otherwise in a 1994 New York Times article, ‘Accomplices to Perjury,’ in which he said: ‘For anyone who has practiced criminal law in the state or Federal courts, the disclosures about rampant police perjury cannot possibly come as a surprise. ‘Testilying’—as the police call it—has long been an open secret among prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges.’ In 1995, the ‘Boston Globe’ reported that New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton created a furor when he said he agreed with most of Dershowitz’s statement.

In a 1996 article in the ‘Los Angeles Times,’ ‘Has the Drug War Created an Officer Liars’ Club?,’ Joseph D. McNamara, then chief of police of San Jose, said ‘Not many people took defense attorney Alan M. Dershowitz seriously when he charged that Los Angeles cops are taught to lie at the birth of their careers at the Police Academy. But as someone who spent 35 years wearing a police uniform, I’ve come to believe that hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit felony perjury every year testifying about drug arrests.’ In 2011, former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane wrote that lying under oath was a ‘routine practice’ for narcotics officers.

Police officers who have been dishonest are sometimes referred to as ‘Brady cops.’ In ‘Brady v. Maryland,’ the Supreme Court held that prosecutors are required to notify defendants and their attorneys of any favorable evidence, such as if a law enforcement official involved in their case has a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity.

A common trope, however, among police officers in the U.S. is the aphorism: ‘If you lie, you die.’ This is indicative of the essential need for trustworthiness in the job—police officers are society’s observers, enforcers and professional witnesses—and a warning that any deliberate falsehood can undermine the officer’s continued usefulness, resulting in termination. Such terminations have been judicially enforced. As Houston Police Chief Art Acdevedo said about a perjured affidavit supporting a raid: ‘That’s totally unacceptable. I’ve told my police department that if you lie, you die. When you lie on an affidavit, that’s not sloppy police work, that’s a crime.’

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