Far too many criminal cases hinge on your word against the testimony of the arresting officer. This is especially common in drunk driving arrests, and because juries tend to believe the word of a police officer over the word of an average citizen, even innocent individuals have an uphill battle when put on the stand against an officer.
One major problem with this system is that despite this image as honest and upstanding individuals, many police officers have character questions of their own. In fact, many police departments know that some of their officers are anything but honest, yet they are allowed to get up on a witness stand and have their word carry more weight than a citizen’s word. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but possibly the most concerning reason is that in some cases it’s actually illegal.
Brady v. Maryland
In order to better understand the problem, we have to take a closer look at a landmark legal case. That case established in 1963 that prosecutors must give over any evidence they have that might help the defendant’s case at trial. That may sound a bit obscure, because why would the prosecution know things that could help the defendant’s case that they wouldn’t already know, but it happens all the time with police officers and their so-called credibility.
For example, let’s say you were arrested for DUI despite the fact that you didn’t take field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer, and it essentially came down to your word versus the cop’s word. You can’t point to the tests that you would have passed because the officer didn’t conduct any, so you’re hurting for evidence to back up your case. What kind of evidence could the prosecution know that could help your case?
Well, what if you learned that the officer who arrested you had been written up at work on multiple occasions for falsifying his overtime hours, or they’ve been found to have lied in reports and statements when compared to video evidence. Wouldn’t you want to know that? According to Brady v. Maryland, you’re supposed to be given this information by the prosecution, but that rarely happens.
USA Today Investigation
USA Today wrote a fantastic piece on the subject this morning, and their article was the basis for this blog. In the article they detail the numerous individuals who had their lives turned upside down and spent years in jail based on the testimony of less-than-honest police officers.
If you click over to that piece, you can see some counties that were interviewed for the story and whether or not they have a so-called “Brady List” to keep tabs on officers whose past actions should be provided to the defense if the officer is set to take the stand. The vast majority of counties in Minnesota do not have a Brady list, as only Rock County and Pine County said they had such a list when inquired. While a hard copy list is not actually required, it surely makes it easier to inform the defense when you have a clear file of officers whose past actions should be provided to the defense. Needless to say, providing this information happens much less often than it should.
A review of the National Registry of Exonerations found that since 1988, nearly 1,000 individuals have been convicted and then exonerated from charges that involved a combination of official misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or false reports by police officers. The citizens in these cases spent an average of 11 years behind bars.
If you want a defense team that knows about these requirements and who will be aggressive in their pursuit of justice, look no further than the experienced legal team at Appelman Law Firm