Is Refusing to Call Untrustworthy Cops to the Witness Stand the Best Way to Protect Defendants?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

The police union in Philadelphia has vowed to appeal a court's ruling that the city's district attorney, Larry Krasner, could refuse to call certain police officers to the stand who had been labeled as unreliable witnesses.

The lawsuit has been a political spitting match since it was first filed. While Mr. Krasner's stance has been long overdue, an outright ban on some officers might not be as effective as allowing them to testify but disclosing their potential unreliability to the criminal defense lawyer.

Prosecutor Refuses to Call Certain Cops to the Stand, Police Sue

The whole altercation has been a result of the long-deteriorating reputation of the police force in Philadelphia. After years of misconduct and suspicious activity by officers that have infringed on the civil rights of all Philadelphians, civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner ran for the office of the district attorney and won.

One of the big decisions he made was to create and maintain a “Do Not Call List”: A list of police officers in Philadelphia that included cops whose history of misconduct and false statements made them too unreliable to call as witnesses in criminal cases.

By creating the list, Krasner wanted to protect people in Philadelphia and push lying cops off the streets by essentially making it pointless for them to gather evidence.

Rather than consider whether its officers had tarnished their reputation for honesty past the point of no return, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 sued Krasner. Apparently, they thought they could force prosecutors to use a police officer's testimony in a criminal trial.

A judge threw the lawsuit out, but now the police are vowing to appeal the ruling.

Brady Disclosures Could Be a Better Strategy

Preventing police who have a known history of lying from taking the stand in a criminal trial is essential. Somehow, juries still see a police officer in uniform as a bastion of honesty, and will readily accept whatever they say as the truth.

However, banning prosecutors in the district attorney's office from calling certain cops to the witness stand might not be the best way to protect Philadelphians.

Instead, the district attorney's office might be better off providing the defense attorney a record of a police officer's past misconduct as a part of their Brady disclosures.

Brady disclosures are batches of potentially exculpatory evidence that the prosecutor uncovered in his or her investigation of the crime. By law, evidence that could be used to prove the defendant's innocence has to be disclosed to the defense lawyer.

An example of potentially exculpatory evidence: A police officer's history of providing false testimony.

By disclosing the cop's past misconduct, it would allow the defense lawyer to grill the officer on the stand, revealing specific instances of their prior dishonesty and laying out exactly why the jury should doubt what the cop says happened. This would protect the defendant, and would also draw out, again and again in every case the officer testified the cop's prior conduct.

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Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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