Police Officer Truthfulness and the Brady Decision
With Police Reform sweeping the nation now could be as good as time as ever to talk about the 1967 Supreme Court ruling of Brady vs Maryland and how this decision affects police officers and the work that they do.
Police Officers when hired raise their right hand and swear to uphold the United States Constitution and among other things always tell the truth and keep their private lives unsullied. But what happens to police officers who get caught lying? Do they just go on with life and collect a paycheck arresting bad guys, writing reports and protecting and serving? Well, No, but it isn’t as easy as those two letters.
Like many police officers my kids are probably the same as yours. They are curious or investigative about me and the police profession. When they were small, they wanted to know why my Taser was yellow and what it did. Why I carried handcuffs. Where the bad guys rode in the police car. Now that they are on the verge of becoming teenagers, I get more thought about questions like what did the bad guy look like, what kind of car was he driving, did you have to testify in court, and do police officers lie?
Until recently I had a hard time telling my two children that sometimes a police officer does tell a lie and does get caught. At first, I thought that I should protect all police officers and the profession in general. Now that they were old enough to understand that not all police officers are as perfect as I set them up to believe I decided to talk to them about truthfulness and reputation and what happens if either is compromised.
As a police officer if you have ever heard the term Brady Violation coupled with Exculpatory Evidence then your career may be close to being over. This is the kiss of death for any law enforcement officer. A Brady Violation in which case is given to the defense as exculpatory evidence means that you can no longer testify in court because your testimony could be considered false.
This is the background when it comes to Brady vs Maryland which is a landmark ruling on the evidence exchange between the prosecution and the defense during the discovery phase of a court case. According to the United States Department of Justice the Brady decision in 1963 ruled that the defense has the right to examine all evidence that may be of an exculpatory nature. The prosecution will not only release evidence that the defendant might be guilty of a crime but also release all evidence that might show that the defendant is innocent as well. Recent Supreme Court decisions have enforced Brady to include evidence maintained in a police officer’s personnel files. Under Brady, evidence affecting the credibility of the police officer as a witness may be exculpatory evidence and should be given to the defense during discovery. Evidence that the officer has had in his personnel file a sustained finding of untruthfulness is clearly exculpatory to the defense. Law enforcement executives have responded to these judicial decisions by imposing strict rules, such as a “No Lies” proclamation. Lying is a subset of the larger category of deception, and deception is undertaken when one intends to dupe others by communicating messages meant to mislead and meant to make the recipients believe what the agent either knows or believes to be untrue. Deception encompasses not only spoken and written statements but any conduct that conveys a message to the listener.
When it comes to deceptive practices there is a caveat. Acknowledging that some deceptive conduct is acceptable helps to define deceptive misconduct. In the performance of their duties, police officers frequently engage in a significant amount of deceptive conduct that is essential to public safety. An example of this is walking into an interrogation room with a blank DVD and talking about what might be on that DVD as evidence. Although lies justified by necessity, lies told in jest, and white lies may be acceptable forms of deception in law enforcement, malicious lies are the true evil of officer misconduct. Intentional deceptive conduct can include deceptive action in a formal setting, failure to bring forward information, or creation of false evidence. The No Lies rule causes managers to deem that Brady has taken their discretion away on the cases that fall outside the justified or excusable categories.
Never let a lie be the deciding factor in a case for many reasons. The two most important reasons are the lie will get figured out during an appeal and the lie will get you Brady listed from future testimony. The proper thing to do in all cases that are borderline or weak is to tell the truth even if it sets a guilty party free. They will eventually re-offend and get caught possibly with more concrete evidence. When you do this you also make an investment in your character and integrity in which judges, defense attorney's and prosecutors will take notice and remember.
I talk about the why a lot in my profession. I feel strongly that police officers coming on the job are in of the understanding that you tell the truth all the time and if you don’t you will be in trouble. I believe that most police officers are not given the ‘why” that is. We should be teaching new officers about the Brady decision and how that decision might affect them more than just “they will be in trouble”.
Our Custom Police Notebooks, Blue Line Flag Notebooks and All Weather Police Notebooks come with either Miranda Rights printed on the inside or a slot to hold a Miranda Rights card. Giving Miranda Rights, or not giving Miranda Rights can in of itself be a point where an officer has to tell the truth. If you didn't give a suspect his or her Miranda Rights and then testify that you did this has the potential to come back on you. Do yourself a favor right down in your COPJOT Custom Police Notebook the date and time that you issued Miranda and then you can refer back to this note at trial. No questions asked.