Police perjury is lying while under oath, and another term that has been linked with police perjury is testilying. Testilying can be deception of police officers in written documents, trials, a hearing, and false swearing to affidavits (Cunningham, 1999). The term testilying is not clear, but for some officers it serves as a middle ground where what they are doing is morally right and in society’s best interest (https://policedeviance.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/police-perjury-and-testilying/)
In North America today police officers are not usually seen obtaining confessions to a crime through the use of physical force. In some countries police still use physical force; however it is not a standard operating procedure in North America. Therefore the courts do not support the use of police force, instead to prevent harm the courts at the same time can be generous on its views of police lying so that they can obtain the truth (Klockars, 1984). Police officers try to provide moral justifications if someone was to question them to support their means of testilying such as serving in the best interest of the person, taking control of the situation, or to escape discomfort situations (Klockars, 1984). Police work, within a severe and sometimes agonizing contradictory, moral order which demands certain kinds of fidelities and insists some betrayal in order to get to the real truth behind a crime. For example some cases put lots of pressure on police departments to catch the bad guy, such as cases involving a serial killer on the loose in a small town. With many people being afraid of the killings, the public demands answers, putting pressure on police to find someone fast. Not all officers’ use deceptive means but there are some who use their power and the setup of the police culture in ways that promotes loyalty over integrity which can in turn lead to police corruption (Punch, 2007) Police corruption differs from police deception, corruption is officers seeking financial or personal gain for themselves and officers can use deceptive means to benefit society (Punch, 2009). A way in which deception can be beneficial to society is if a criminal is caught for example through deceptive interrogative techniques. However some officers try to cover their deceptive means and covering them can make them lie in court, and this is where testilying comes in. After conducting research on police use of deception, it has been found that police use deceptive means in three stages of a criminal investigation and that is at the investigation, interrogation, and testimony stages of a crime.
Police investigations can be long and difficult, and with hard and fast rules limiting police conduct may challenge common sense, and the absence of these rules can invite arbitrary and abusive conduct (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). In the report by Jerome Skolnick he describes that the reality of deception is considered by police and the courts to be as natural to detecting as pouncing is to a cat (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). When investigating a crime one way a police officer may fabricate evidence so that they can confront the suspect with false evidence of his guilt. The form of fabricated evidence usually involves officers informing the suspect of the accomplice identifying them, stating there is existing physical evidence such as fingerprints, DNA to confirm guilt, and another common way to get one to admit guilt of a crime is taking a polygraph test regardless of the results even though those are unreliable and invalid (Skolnick &, Leo, 1992). The police try to legitimize their means of deception for many reasons. Police use placebos as a means to serve in the best interest of the person duped by them such as telling lies that will not hurt them but help comfort them because they cannot help the situation otherwise, serving as a self-evident morality to them (Klockars, 1984).
For police placebos to work they have to be served with some deception and the credibility of the liar, and that the lie is preserved (Klockars, 1984). In the case of fabricating evidence by the means discussed above, officers may feel that it can let the suspect be cleared if these means are used. More common placebos used include officers saying a loved one died a quick and painless death to their family when they know it was not like that, and in burglary cases insuring the family it was kids and not professionals, all so that it serves in the person’s best interest that are being lied to by an officer (Klockars, 1984). A case of where police used deception in the investigation process was in the death of Jean Balashek who’s daughter was charged but the case was never indicted and she spent 7 months in jail before the case was dropped (http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Albany-County-sheriff-candidate-calls-tape-about-1418092.php). It was found in November 2005 that the sheriff’s investigators had created a fake poster offering $150,000 for information leading to an arrest (http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Albany-County-sheriff-candidate-calls-tape-about-1418092.php). A veteran homicide investigator, Horton commented on the flier and said I think they were within their rights,” Horton said at the time. “You’ve got to be a little creative as a police officer and it sounds like they were.” (http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Albany-County-sheriff-candidate-calls-tape-about-1418092.php).
Another form of police deception occurs at the stage of interrogation. In the past police brutality was a part of interrogation, and although it seems uncivilized to most Americans it was not long ago the American police used physical violence to get confessions out of suspects (Skolnick &, Leo, 1992). The use of force seeks to get physical control of a suspect and it can risk failure as soon as an individual tires, weakens or becomes inattentive (Klockars, 1984). Since the introduction of “Miranda” in the 1960’s, it has now become part of the American criminal justice system. The case of Miranda v. Arizona holds that an arrested person must be informed of his or her rights to remain silent, must be warned that any statement he or she does make maybe used as evidence and must be told that he or she as the right to the presence of an attorney (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). The use of deception at the interrogation stage, although there are Miranda warnings in the US and Canadian Charter of Rights in Canada have to be given to a suspect in custody, the police however question suspects in a non-custodial setting which is defined more the suspects state of mind more than the location of questioning, and this is the most overlooked and deceptive strategy that they employ (Skolnick &, Leo, 1992). By interviewing in a non-custodial setting telling the suspect that he can leave at any time and having him acknowledge that he is answering their questions involuntary police can transform what is an interrogation into a non-custodial interview (Skolnick &, Leo, 1992).
Police officers rarely admit to perjury however evidence is the acceptability of perjury as a means to the end of a conviction (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). It is suggested that perjury is like corruption it is systematic and police officers know that each other are on it and that they are perjuring themselves (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). In Robert Daley’s book Prince of the City he wrote that there was surveillance showing the defendants were guilty of hijacking television sets and, on the other, that cops were stealing some of the hijacked sets, the evidence was obtained through a legal wiretap (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). The detectives erased that part of the tape proving that the precinct cops had stolen some of the sets.
Daley writes, “Tomorrow they would deny the erasure under oath…. It was the type of perjury that detectives… committed all the time in the interest of putting bad people in jail.” (http://www.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/cje/html/sample1.html). Punch (2009) states that in the Mollen Commision the acts of corruptions are committed because of the police culture and the silence of honest cops so they do not rat out their fellow cop and those that work as a pack do it to protect each other. When police start using deceptive means to get the job done, taking part in bigger lies and getting others involved will only lead to police corruption. In the Mollen Commission the corruption that was found involved groups of officers calling them “crew” where they helped each other by identifying drug sites, planning raids and forcible entry (Punch, 2009). If officers can start taking part in criminal activity and get others involved they are most likely to lie on the stand and commit perjury so that they can protect one another because of loyalty to their crew.
The purpose of the criminal justice system is to get to the truth and punish those who have committed the crime. If officers use deceptive means to get to the truth one may question whether the courts are getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Officers use deceptive means so they can achieve legitimate ends and if they do they will only continue to use more deception because it is a favorable alternative instead of using force. Police officers justify their deception by police placebos and best interest of society because they feel that they have a moral obligation to be truthful. When looking at it lying from society and the laws perspective, officers are required to hold high standards of integrity. However in some cases lying a little might help solve a case, achieving an end for both officers and the public. Therefore it raises questions as to when lying is permissible and how much of it can officers use.
Cunningham, L. (1999). Taking on Testifying: The Prosecutor’s Response to In-Court Police
Deception. Criminal Justice Ethics, 18(1), 26. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Klockars, C. B. (1984). Blue Lies and Police Placebos: The Moralities of Police Lying.
American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 27, No. 4.
Punch, M. (2009). The US: from pad to crew Police Corruption: deviance, accountability and
reform in policing (67-74). Willan Publishing.
Skolnick, J. H., & Leo, R. A. (1992). The ethics of deceptive interrogation. Criminal Justice
Ethics, 11(1), 3. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.