Do bears answer the call of nature in the woods? Are telemarketers annoying? Do police officers lie in court?The answer to each question is an overwhelming YES.
Anyone with any experience in the affairs of human nature knows that most people lie all the time. Police officers are not exempt.
I am happy to report, however, that the days of complete immunity for police officers who play Pinocchio in open court may be over. Ontario's Chief Prosecutor has promised a probe into more than a hundred cases of police deception. The problem of police deception in the courtroom exists across Canada.
As a criminal trial lawyer, I often wade through the pervasive reality of the human condition with mild amusement and a weary detachment. I do, however, take great exception when some sworn officers of the law take the Bible in their hands in court, or affirm to tell the truth, and do everything that they possibly can in order to sink my client.
Q: "Officer, at exactly what time did you arrive at 1280 Magna Carta Lane?"
A: "Well, your client came out of the dwelling with blood all over his hands, and I could hear the screaming inside the house, and oh, I have the time marked in my notebook as arriving on the scene at 12:48 a.m."
Q: "Did you consult with other officers at the scene when you made your notes?"
A: "No, I did not. My notes were made independently."
Q: "Thank you. I was just checking and wondering how the notes of other officers at the scene have the exact time of 12:48 a.m. arrival noted in their books. Did you synchronize your watches before arriving at the scene?"
A: "Is that a question counsellor?"
And on it goes.
In jury trials, most jury members don't stop to consider the fact that the police officers who are testifying are professional witnesses and are not independent. They represent the state. They are usually there to amplify and echo the Crown's theory of the case.
It is not by accident that they sometimes come to court in their full black-shirted-nine-mm-firearm-carrying regalia.The uniforms convey a message of authority and power. Police officers are used to the courtroom atmosphere and generally know exactly what defence lawyers are likely to ask them on the witness stand.
To the observant, the clues regarding their professional witness status, though subtle, will all be there. Look for the police officer to listen to the question and then turn directly to the judge to answer the question, or in the alternative, look directly at the jury with their studied sincere courtroom persona conveying, "I was just trying to do my job, you can trust me. I, and others like me, keep you safe."
They are perfectly aware that their testimony carries a lot of weight with most people.
I can't tell you how many times some well-meaning folks at community events have told me, "Yeah, so the police lie sometimes. So what? We want them to catch the scumbags you represent. They are just doing their jobs."
Naturally, when some of these very same people have had the unfortunate experience of being charged with a criminal offence, they are shocked when they read their disclosure. They insist that the police version of events never happened. They insist that they never actually invited the police into their house where the marijuana and cocaine was found. They insist that the police barged into their house flashing their weapons and ransacked their house without a search warrant. Naturally, they want me to fight aggressively with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections and have their criminal charges "thrown out."
For those of you who never grew up on a street lined with ancient trees, or had neighbours with Range Rovers or a Lexus parked out front; for those of you who have a dark skin tone and speak with a "foreign" accent; for those of you who comprehend the statistical fact that you are more likely than a white person to be stopped and investigated by the police...I have a message of hope.
Some of the judges in our criminal court system are painfully aware that some police officers lie to them in court and attempt to pervert the course of justice. In their tempered, restrained judicial language, these judges are calling out the offending police officers in their judgments and throwing cases out of court.
I am proud to tell you that these judges are unwilling to politely look away and allow certain police officers to make a mockery out of our judicial system. These judges understand the rot that can entrench itself in our entire society if they judicially endorse such unacceptable behaviour from sworn officers of the law. For them, this chicanery must not stand.
Contrary to what the spin doctors try to tell you, the remarks made in official judgments by sitting judges when they throw out insidiously poisoned police testimony cases are anything but "throwaway comments."
These judges are all too aware that their judgments are read by the policymakers and other stakeholders within the government. In the past, police officers who were found to be lying on the stand walked away free without any consequence. The Crowns that were involved with their cases did not have to report them to their respective bosses. After all, the police were the good guys fighting crime, they were just a bit misguided or a bit overzealous, no one was going to win any points by publicly chastising their behaviour.
I am aware that not all police officers lie on the witness stand. In doing my job for approximately 15 years, I have known some officers who will gently smile on the stand and admit their errors knowing that the accused will go free. They understand that they have a job to do and their testimony under oath must be the truth, and nothing but the truth. I have great respect for those officers.
Those officers who believe that that the justice system is a game to be won at all costs are simply missing the point. In my respectful view, they are no better than the people they are trying to send to jail.