This hasn’t been a good year for South Florida cops. Actually, it hasn’t been a good couple of years.
In the past two to three years, the following has happened:
Several Hollywood Police officers were implicated in a conspiracy to fabricate a DUI report for a crash that occurred when a Hollywood Police officer was actually the one at fault.
A City of Miami officer was pulled over for driving on the Turnpike at over 120 miles per hour.
A Broward Sheriff’s Deputy was arrested during a road rage incident when he pulled over a woman who’d flipped him off, only to reach into the car to steal the cell phone that was recording the incident.
A large investigation of the City of Miami Police Department resulted in arrests of officers who provided police protection to an illegal gambling ring.
Two City of Miami Police officers and a state corrections officer were arrested for using a police database to commit identity theft for the purpose of filing phony tax returns.
These are just a few that come to mind. Believe me - and a quick Google search will confirm this - there are a lot more.
But every time I read about police misconduct, I get a big smile across my face. Ear to ear. Call me insensitive, call me callous, call me whatever you want. I call myself - and my clients - very fortunate.
I hate to see officers committing crimes as much as you do, but from a criminal defense standpoint, I almost breath a sigh of relief.
It’s as if to say, “See people? See what I’ve been telling you for years? Cops aren’t perfect! They aren’t above the law! They lie, cheat, rob, and steal just like the rest of us!”
At the cornerstone of every single criminal case is an arrest. Which means that at least one police officer will likely be a witness in your case. Prosecutors love police officer witnesses because they suffer from the delusion (and I did too when I was a young prosecutor) that a cop’s testimony is like gold. Cops come to court looking like a million bucks. Clean uniform. Shiny badge. After all, doesn’t that striking image depict bravery? Protection and service of the community? Good fighting the forces of evil?
So when a cop testifies, prosecutors believe that the jury will hang on their every word, not question the truthfulness of their testimony one bit. Because after all, cops aren’t supposed to lie.
But they do.
Juries are comprised of people. Citizens of the community. They read the paper, they watch the news. They see what’s going on. While a juror is supposed to enter the courtroom with an open mind, no judge or lawyer can possibly expect them to disregard their knowledge, common sense, and life experience. In fact, that’s what I love about jurors. The human side. Not a bunch of mindless robots who want to be spoon-fed.
So while jurors can take an oath and swear to fairly and impartially try the facts of a case - and in all of my trials I have never seen a jury take this obligation lightly - they still rely on their knowledge, common sense, and life experience when deliberating. And stories of police crime and misconduct will weigh on their minds when they decide whether the testimony of a police officer was credible.
Each witness should be evaluated based on the quality and accuracy of their testimony. Each and everyday, police officers come into American courtrooms, speak the truth, and offenders are convicted. However, I think that the day has come where officers will no longer be able to testify with impunity. The availability of information and twenty four-hour news cycles have made it impossible to disregard tales of dirty cops.
A juror should keep an open mind and should evaluate an officer’s testimony without prejudice. But the juror should rely upon the notion that cops aren’t impervious to deceit and dishonesty.
To the cops that may be reading this, I’m sorry to offend. I know you guys don’t much care for us criminal defense attorneys.
That is, until you need one.