Police corruption has been an issue in the U.S. for decades. Pennsylvania is no exception. In fact, over the last few years, Philadelphia has been caught up in some notorious police corruption investigations. The most serious one involved officers who allegedly stole money, drugs and guns from drug dealers and either used or sold the contraband. In some instances, evidence was planted in an attempt to arrest/convict others. The stories paint an all too familiar picture – the uniformed officer who uses the official badge to commit crimes.
Under the U.S. and Pennsylvania (state) constitutions, citizens have certain rights, such as:
- the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,
- the right to remain silent, and
- the right to due process of law (fundamental or basic fairness).
This list is not exhaustive.
It can certainly be argued that a law enforcement officer who engaged in misconduct such as lying, or engaged in corrupt acts like planting evidence has violated the accused person’s right to due process of law. The key, however, is proving the misconduct or corrupt behavior.
Proving that a police officer engaged in misconduct or corrupt behavior usually requires concrete evidence, or at least evidence which conflicts the officer’s version of events. While video footage, photos or eyewitness testimony is ideal, locating and presenting this type of evidence is often unlikely. Police officers who engage in corrupt behavior are often smart about not getting caught; therefore, there will be no video tape footage, photos, etc.
Therefore, police misconduct cases including corruption cases often boil down to credibility or believability. Is the officer still believable when presented with the truth through cross-examination? This is often the only way to attack credibility of the officer.
Criminal defendants are often at a disadvantage. Every day, average citizens tend to believe what officers tell them. After all, we’re hardwired to listen to authority. The problem is that when police corruption occurs, the person accused of a crime is often unable to properly tell their side of the story. This is because many criminal defendants cannot risk taking the stand to defend themselves and tell their side of the story.
For example, someone previously arrested and convicted of check fraud may choose not to take the stand, because if they did, that conviction would be entered into evidence. The jury hears of it and credibility of the accused is impacted in a negative way. When the jury must decide between two versions of events, credibility is huge. This is why criminal defendants who are victims of police corruption are often at a major disadvantage.
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