I do not testify against police officers as an expert witness. I have never sought business as an expert witness, but I occasionally have been asked to be one. When asked, I tell the caller, “I do not testify against police officers as an expert witness.”
When I have given that answer the attorney calling often editorializes, “You know that by taking that stance you impact on your credibility. To be credible you must be available to testify for and against officers.”
My response is usually: “Oh really? Goodbye.”
It’s All About Credibility
In my 33-year career I made and assisted in thousands of arrests from misdemeanors to serious felonies. I was in court to testify and listen to the testimony of defendants more times than I can count.
In many of these cases I had the truth in my pocket. I knew exactly what happened and did not happen. I was often required to sit idly by while suspects said they did not do a thing I knew they had done. Other times they testified that I had done things that I knew I absolutely had not done.
While knowing the truth of cases in question, time and time again the officers I worked with also told truth. In my experience when I knew what the truth was and there was a stark contrast in the telling of the story it was the suspects, who lied. Even so I have heard defense attorneys make statements like this to a jury, “The shocking question you must ask yourselves today is are the police lying in this case?”
As difficult as it was to be unjustly called a liar, I always found comfort in the words of Winston Churchill. He once said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end there it is.”
In the past I have testified as an expert witness in the defense of officers, who have found themselves in front of a Federal Jury, when they had done nothing wrong. I learned from these cases that it is the job of the expert witness to make a professional judgment based on the facts as told by those parties involved. In these cases the stories of the suspects varied drastically from the officers’ credible accounts.
I have personally witnessed officers tell the truth when:
1.) It is exculpatory for the suspect.
2.) It makes the officers look bad in the front of the jury.
3.) It weakens the prosecution’s case.
4.) They wished they would have done something or said something other than what they had done or said.
5.) When it made fellow officers look bad or even criminal.
On the other hand, I have personally observed suspects lie over everything from parking tickets to homicides.
After an entire career of watching defendants tell lies under oath, while my fellow officers and I told the truth it is not possible for me to in good conscience ever jeopardize another officer’s career as an expert witness on the word of any suspect. This decision is re-enforced by the observation that suspects regularly do not tell the truth.
An expert who buys into the lie of a suspect could easily testify that the reasonable actions of an officer were, in fact, unreasonable or even criminal. But it would be based on a lie. The expert would be party to the crime of ruining the career of an honorable officer.
Some will call me naïve and say that police officers have lied in the past. These officers were an aberration where I worked and in those cases they were exposed by fellow officers bound by their honor and a duty to tell even the difficult truth.
Police officers are motivated to tell the truth under oath because the truth is our currency. If we are not believable we are bankrupt as police officers.
Maybe even more important to officers is the sense that in court, when a cop lies, their honor dies. Honor means a lot to the men and women drawn to this profession. Police officers realize that you can sell honor and credibility for a penny, but once sold you can’t buy them back for a million bucks.
The Art of Lying
An attorney once told me in a casual conversation that lawyers do not tell their clients to lie, but attorneys hope when clients choose to lie they will “lie as close to the truth as possible. It’s easier to sell.”
Adolf Hitler had another point of view. He once said, “Make the lie big. Make it simple. Keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.” I have personally witnessed suspects practice both of these approaches...under oath.
Honor et Veritas
Therefore since the vast majority of officers I have met and worked with could justify having “Honor et Veritas” (Honor and Truth) emblazoned on their coat of arms I will trust an officer’s word first unless proven otherwise. Police officers come from a long line of courageous truth-tellers striving to be faithful to the truth.
I will close this piece with an example of an oath taken by knights in a historical movie called “The Kingdom of Heaven.”
Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.
In my expert opinion, police officers tell the truth, because in truth there is honor.