Disclosing Officer Untruthfulness to the Defense

Abstract

The following paper is devoted to the issue of police officers’ untruthfulness. As exemplified by the given case, the paper addresses the problem of the officer’s misconduct in the workplace and lying and whether such misconduct should be punished by termination or some disciplinary measures. The problem of lying and impeachment of such officers’ testimonies has been addressed in a range of cases. For a more insightful view of the issue, several cases leading to the establishment of the disclosure rule and the No-Lies policy have been reviewed. The issue of personal morality flaws, as opposed to intentional deceit of official proceedings, has been discussed; it has also been discussed whether personal issues can be considered “material” in court proceedings. The paper is relevant for the field of criminological studies since it contains a review of several relevant cases to present an unbiased perspective of the problem of officers’ deceit.

Following a range of U.S. Supreme Court rulings as from the 1963 Brady v. Maryland case, it was established that the defense must be aware of the information advantageous to the accused. Such evidence can include facts that might prove the government witnesses’ statements not entirely credible. Thus, police officers who have been found out in untruthfulness can be regarded as incapable of credible testimony – which questions whether they can at all work efficiently. In the given case, the officer with an almost spotless record has been found out using his computer to log on to websites with explicit content. When asked about his actions, the officer lied denying his involvement. After his conduct was proved, the officer confessed and promised this would not happen anymore. Considering the officer’s record and the fact that he has been in the position for more than 10 years, a dilemma arises that we shall try to solve in the following paper. The question is whether this officer should be divested of authority and expelled or whether some disciplinary measures should be taken instead of termination. To better understand the course of action that is to be taken in the given situation, it is necessary to study cases that regard untruthfulness of officers and refer to precedent as a guideline.

In Brady v. Maryland, it was ruled that the non-disclosure of extrajudicial evidence is a violation of the judicial process. During a robbery, the victim was murdered; two persons were accused and found guilty. However, the prosecution suppressed the evidence that concerned one of the accused being guilty of accompliceship in the robbery but not the murder itself and the other testifying his guilt (Brady v. Maryland, n.d.). Another case, Giglio v. the United States, discovered that the Assistant Attorney of the Supreme Court offered the witness prospects for non-prosecution if the witness gave his statement. The witness Giglio falsely testified that he had not been promised anything while de facto the prospect of leniency did take place. The Assistant trying the case dod not know of the contract between the witness and the Assistant Attorney. Thus, it was established that all evidence needs to be disclosed even if it casts doubt on government witnesses’ reliability since it could influence the decision of the court (Giglio v. the United States, n.d.). Another case facilitated further expansion of the rule of disclosure. The accused was convicted of carrying weapons and murder of her acquaintance. The prosecutor did not disclose that the accused was defending herself, which meant she was denied a fair trial. Thus, the United States v. Agurs case ruling made it necessary to disclose the evidence that exculpates the defendant albeit the order to do so is absent (United States v. Agurs, n.d.). Another case concerned the denial of a fair trial to the accused due to the failure to disclose the evidence that could cast doubt on the government witnesses’ testimonies, as in Brady v. Maryland case. In the case of United States v. Bagley, the Court had to rule on officials contracting the information providers to testify disadvantageously to the accused. The evidence doubting the witnesses’ reliability was considered “material” since it could have otherwise influenced the Court’s decision, if timely disclosed (United States v. Bagley, n.d.). Lastly, the Court established that any evidence exculpating the accused must also be disclosed. A new session was required in the case of Kyles v. Whitley when it was found out that the prosecution did not inform the Court of the evidence provided by the police. The evidence included testation by eye-witnesses, the information provider’s data, and other substantial facts. The prosecution did not know the evidence existed, while the police files enlisted it inter alia. Consequently, the Court ruled that the prosecution must assure the totality of the information presented to the court (Kyles v. Whitley, n.d.).

Overall, the decisions taken chronologically represent the final idea that the Court has come to rule out. The concept is that the prosecution must establish effective communication on all sides to acquire as much information as possible. More importantly, all information should be disclosed, regardless whether it doubts the government witnesses’ reliability or not. The prosecution, therefore, the prosecution relies largely on the data known to the police. The meaning of it is that if a police officer is untruthful, this issue should be reported to the prosecution instantaneously. For that sake, the so called Giglio policy was deployed in 1996 for a range of organizations such as the FBI, the DEA, etc. The ultimate goal of this policy is to make sure the prosecution both receives information in full volume and advocate for the officials’ privacy (Office of the Attorney General, 2014). Also, in the case where an officer acts as a witness, the record of their wrongdoings should be presented to the prosecution even if there is no special request for it, provided that the information is relevant to the case. At any rate, the witness’s character for untruthful behavior, if there is a precedent to such statement, should be presented as well.

Indeed, if the officer’s wrongdoing includes lies, such officer can hardly be regarded as a reliable witness. True, the prosecution can check the records with respect to the officer’s character. If such officers present a dysfunctional truthfulness profile, their testimonies can be doubted. Which is why there is a two-way solution to this problem: the officer caught on lying can be either terminated or assured to never testify at court. Such officers form what can plainly be dubbed “liars squads,” hardly conforming to the ultimate no-lie maxim since their credibility as law enforcement officers is affected anyway, whether they lie or perform other inappropriate actions (Noble, 2003). It is argued that, in some cases, the officers’ untruthfulness can be justified by the circumstances or excused. Such circumstances, for example, include white lies or lies made when interacting with colleagues in an informal manner. In the first case, there is the issue of tact if the officer is, for instance, communicating with a victim’s family. As to lying jestingly, exaggeration and lies are present in every part of informal human communication and are only natural.

As per Brady v. Maryland, the officers’ reliability can significantly influence and alter the Court’s decision, which is why the evidence for and against their reliability should be presented (Noble, 2003). However, it is also necessary to determine whether the officer’s untruthfulness can actually disrupt the judicial process. Relying on the moral conduct, the officers’ personal matters cannot and should not overlap their credibility as witnesses and should remain undisclosed since they are likely to form a biased opinion of these persons while not by any means helping the trial. Which is why evidence of an officer, for example, cheating on their spouses is not considered “material” and the defense is rarely capable of presenting such evidence at court (Noble, 2003). Thus, to decide whether the officer lying to defend himself in the eyes of authority should be terminated or disciplined, it is necessary to gain insight into the nature of his lies and his motives when lying. Clearly, considering that the officer used the corporate PC to browse for erotic content on the job, is a serious failure. On the other hand, the reason this officer lied is quite clear. Even though erotica can be considered an indispensable part of human sexuality, socially, it bears a marker of taboo, deviation, and generally shameful activity. Not wishing to admit browsing such content, therefore, is perfectly natural. Besides, although the fact that the officer lied to benefit himself is evident, this evidence can hardly be impeaching should this officer ever testify at court. The lie did not occur during an official proceeding or report, being largely a personal matter of the officer. Another point in the officer’s defense is his record that did not contain any misconduct when performing duty for 10 years. Also, after the officer has been proved guilty, he showed contrition, stating he understood the error of his ways. Thus, considering the circumstances that prerequisited the lies, the officer’s wrongdoing can hardly be regarded as impeaching his credibility at court. A set of disciplinary measures can be taken, such as a written warning and a training or counseling session to improve performance standards. Also, a careful record should be kept of this officer’s actions with respect to any further breaches of discipline.

To conclude, intentional deceit is an undoubtedly serious issue in law enforcement, especially with respect to the officers’ reliability as witnesses. In due course, the public policy of disclosing evidence of the officers’ unreliability has been formed, which has made a substantial impact on the judicial system and fair conduct. On the other hand, the officers’ flawed private life has no relevance to proceedings in which these officers testify, and cannot be regarded as prejudicial against their truthfulness at work. Besides, considering the mitigating circumstances such as a prolonged period of loyalty, good record of service, and repentance, in this particular case it seems more appropriate to confine ourselves to disciplinary actions without carrying the case to extremities.

References

Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). (n.d.).

Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972). (n.d.).

Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995). (n.d.).

Noble, J. (2003). Police Officer Truthfulness and the Brady Decision. Web.

Office of the Attorney General. (2014). Policy Regarding the

Disclosure to Prosecutors of Potential Impeachment Information Concerning Law Enforcement Agency Witnesses (“Giglio Policy”).

United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976). (n.d.).

United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667 (1985). (n.d.).