Police Perjury and ‘testilying’

Posted: October 1, 2011 by sharkmg in Police Perjury

Police perjury and testilying seems to be a new growing problem within the criminal justice system. The term perjury as we know it is lying or making false statements while under oath. However, police perjury can also be used with the term “testilying” which was first reported in the Mollen Commission, used by police officers in New York (Cunningham, 1999). The term testilying is still not quite clear, but the officers may have used the term to convince themselves what they are doing is morally right, and lying in court is not exactly lying, it may not be telling the whole truth, therefore serves as a middle ground. This preliminary overview will discuss testilying and its circumstances, frequency, some possible reasons to why it occurs, and if this information is available for the public and easily searchable.

When officers are being dishonest they may feel that not providing the entire truth and treading on middle ground is in society’s best interest leading to a conviction. If perjury is considered to be testilying then there are other forms of deception that police officers can take which fall under testilying. Testilying can be deception of police officers in written documents, in trial, a hearing, and false swearing to affidavits (Cunningham, 1999). Testilying can take many forms and some of the circumstances an officer may involve are, creating a confidential informant to obtain a search warrant, lying about the circumstances to obtain a warrant, and planting evidence on a suspect (Cunningham, 1999). Therefore, if officers are lying about evidence in court it raises concerns about the credibility of the evidence and testimony being presented in court.

When looking for how often testilying might occur it can be difficult to determine since there are many forms and lack of information others have of it. Not having the information about testilying is hard to measure and by committing perjury it is something that is kept quiet. Cunningham (1999) states that officers are not open to others about corruption maybe because of a code of silence, therefore this prevents officers from being open about the issue with others, which does not help to study deception. In many cases, there is pressure on officers to find the perpetrator whom may have committed the crime. Being under pressure from the public and in the office, officers may lie to achieve the means of justice. A study conducted by law students at Columbia Law School found that after Mapp v. Ohio decision was handed down, officers told the truth in many cases, however judges dismissed cases because of illegal evidence (Cunningham, 1999). After this study, it was found that officers began to lie to keep valuable evidence from being dismissed in court (Cunningham, 1999).

When searching for results on testilying on the Google search engine I typed police perjury and testilying and 20,000 hits come up. If one simply types the word testilying about 19,100 results show up. Most of the results that show up for police perjury and testilying are not fairly recent and the earliest being from year 2005 to 1997. The Google search engine has some scholarly articles that show up. Out of the results that show up on the first page, the article used in this review by Cunningham Taking on Testifying: The Prosecutor’s Response to In-Court Police Deception is listed three times as it provides insight and relevant information on testilying and what it is, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3009/is_1_18/ai_n28740984/. A Wikipedia page also shows up and it defines testilying as a United States police slang term for the practice of giving false testimony against a defendant in a criminal trial http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testilying. On this page it has information of where testilying was first published and how the Mollen Commission found falsehood in the New York City Police Department http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testilying. The other pages that show up consist of a report of University of Colorado of Law Review which discusses the O.J Simpson trial and the nature of testilying, proposals for reducing it, and reducing pressures to lie and ignore lying http://www.constitution.org/lrev/slobogin_testilying.htm. The law review provides useful information on testilying, giving a reader an idea of how exactly it can look like and ways to stop officers from doing it. Other pages mentioned  New York because that is where testilying was found in many of the cases being thrown out and coming to public attention. The word testilying is linked with police perjury, however perjury is lying on the stand in court, but testilying can consist of many other forms of police deception.

The court room and the criminal justice system is where we try to find the truth and put the guilty behind bars. There should be no lying in the court as it goes against the purpose for having a trial based on lies. When collecting evidence officers should be educated on how to collect it and investigate the crime. There could be more discussion about perjury and the ethical consequences that they can face, and have more involvement of other officials in the system. Last thing one would want is lying a little to get a conviction but convicting the wrong person for a crime they did not commit is wrong.

Cunningham, L. (1999). Taking on Testifying: The Prosecutor’s Response to In-Court Police Deception. Criminal Justice Ethics, 18(1), 26. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an excellent first post.

    In your next article, it would be great to theorize the practice of testilying in relation to the police organization. That is, while we know that specific instances of perjury can often be attributed to the actions of an individual officer, how can we make sense of those actions in light of the broader police culture, organizational factors, and the nature of police work?

    Also, is the purpose of the criminal justice system to put the guilty behind bars? Isn’t incarceration only one sentencing option among many?

  2. sharkmg says:

    Police perjury occurs on an individual level but also can be applied through organizational factors. Punch (2009) stated that officers involved in perjury or acts of corruption in the Mollen Commission called themselves the “crew” where they helped each other by identifying drug sites, planning raids and forcible entry. Officers in groups such as the “crew” are more focused on loyalty instead of integrity; they don’t want to be the ones who “rat” out their fell cops. The institutional failures to control such a problem can be attributed to front-line supervisors being young and not experienced in the lack of authority. As well as senior officers just not seeing what is really going on and not holding anyone accountable, officers are likely to start misusing their authority and power to serve their own means.

    Incarceration is the most common form of sentencing for offenders, because other punishments such as community service or fines, some find are not suitable punishments for serious crimes committed. And the purpose of the criminal justice system is to put people behind bars so that the person is punished for what they did, unable to hurt others, and to rehabilitate so when they are out of prison they won’t commit an offence again.

  3. Mike Larsen says:

    Sharkmg, it is important to distinguish between the formal principles governing the Canadian criminal justice system and our opinions of how that system should operate. In point of fact, the purpose of the system is *not* to ‘put people behind bars’. It happens to do this at an alarming rate, but the stated objectives of the system are much broader. Only a fraction of the people who come into contact with the CJS are incarcerated.

    The term ‘purpose’ implies and end or objective. We would be in serious trouble if we concluded that incarceration was the desired end or objective of the criminal justice system. Incarceration could be considered a means to an end – just as policing, courts, community-based alternatives, and probation could all be considered means to an end.

    If these are the means, then what are the ends? We could make the case that justice is the desired end. Or ‘security’, broadly conceived. Rawls argues that the ultimate end / objective of any system in a liberal democracy should be the maximization of liberty. The justice system, therefore, would use a variety of means (including the imposition on the liberty of some) to maximize liberty for all. If you wish to argue that incarceration is a necessary and valuable means to achieve a desirable end, fine – but it cannot reasonably be considered an end in and of itself.

    All the best.

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