Do Police Lie Under Oath in Court? Say It Ain’t So!


When I was starting out in this business almost 30 years ago, a very wise man told me that the first thing you’ll learn as a lawyer is cops lie and the second is that judges believe them. To highlight this phenomenon, Michelle Alexander, Associate Professor of Law at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, recently penned a piece for The New York Times entitled “Why Police Lie Under Oath.”

It is widely accepted by those engrained in the police culture that: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

Although it’s difficult to paint with a formulaic brush to determine why cops lie, it appears there are three reasons: (1) “because they can. Police officers know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer;” (2) “criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record. Police know that no one cares about these people;” and (3) “Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests.” In the war on drugs, federal grant programs have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence.

Professor Alexander concludes by noting that “[e]xposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers. This reluctance derives partly from the code of silence that governs police practice and from the ways in which the system of mass incarceration is structured to reward dishonesty. But it’s also because police officers are human.”

Take a gander at Professor Alexander’s article in the New York Times.

New York Times Article: Why Police Lie Under Oath