Last month, 6 Philadelphia police officers, former members of the narcotics division, were acquitted by a federal jury. The charges included allegations that the officers assaulted and stole money from suspects, planted evidence, falsified warrants, lied in trials, etc.
Witnesses for the prosecution included roughly a dozen drug dealers and a fellow police officer who has already pled guilty and is serving a prison sentence. Defense attorneys zeroed in on the obvious credibility problems of these witnesses, repeatedly arguing that none of them could be trusted. Ultimately, the jury agreed with the defense, acquitting the officers of all charges. It’s unclear whether the officers will return to duty with the Philadelphia Police Department.
What Happened? Lessons Learned
Police Corruption and Misconduct
In the past several months, multiple police officers across the country have faced serious charges of misconduct. Some of the allegations are disturbing, including one of the most recent charges involving police officers from Baltimore who are accused of failing to get medical attention for a critically injured individual riding in the back of a police van. The individual ultimately died.
Media attention on police misconduct issues helps combat something hardwired into the average citizen–that police officers act honorably. More and more, average citizens are realizing that police officers can actually be capable of serious misconduct. The jurors in the recent Philadelphia police corruption case were probably well-tuned to the issue of police misconduct. So what happened? Why did these jurors acquit all the officers?
Philadelphia Criminal Trials – Credibility of Witnesses
Criminal cases in Philadelphia are often taken to trial, whether in front of a judge or jury. That’s because credibility of a witness is probably the most important factor which determines the outcome of a criminal jury trial. This is true whether it’s a murder case or a drug possession case. If a key witness isn’t believable, then the prosecution’s entire case may crumble.
The reality is that many witnesses in criminal trials have serious credibility problems. This is especially true when a witness or multiple witnesses in a case are drug dealers or have a history of untruthfulness. This is precisely what happened in the recent, historic Philadelphia police officer corruption trial. Without any credible supporting evidence, the jurors simply couldn’t hang their hats on the testimony of drug dealers and an admitted corrupt police officer. If there had been additional testimony about large cash purchases made by the officers, or other witnesses who saw some of the alleged conduct, we certainly may have seen a guilty verdict here.
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