Prosecutors have a legal and ethical duty not to knowingly allow perjury. If a prosecutor learns that a witness — even a police officer — in one of their cases lied on the stand, that prosecutor is required to notify the judge and attempt to correct the matter.
But what if a prosecutor doesn’t know that the officer lied in this particular case, but does know that the officer has a history of documented misconduct, including lying under oath? The prosecutor’s duty, under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Brady v. Maryland, is to turn over that information to the defense so that the officer’s credibility can be challenged in court.
To be sure of doing so in every case involving a potentially non-credible officer, prosecutors’ offices are encouraged to maintain what is called a “Brady list” of officers with problematic backgrounds that affect their credibility. Unfortunately, according to a recent investigation by USA TODAY, at least half of the county prosecutors’ offices in the U.S. don’t maintain a Brady list.
According to USA TODAY, thousands of people have been charged and convicted based on testimony by officers with known histories of misconduct and lying. Even in big cities like Chicago, many prosecutors are taking no steps at all to ensure that the defense receives all relevant information about problematic officers, as required by Brady. And, in jurisdictions that do keep Brady lists, many police departments and prosecutors refuse to make them public, making it impossible to determine whether they are following the law.
USA TODAY also identified at least 1,200 police officers who had proven histories of misconduct that had not been included in prosecutors’ Brady lists. Of those, 261 had specifically been disciplined for lying on the job.
A case of repeat DUI — or an officer’s padded paycheck?
In 2006, Revat Vara was pulled over for suspected DUI. He wasn’t drunk. He had gone to pick up friend who was too drunk to drive. He passed the field sobriety tests. Nevertheless, Officer William Lindsey said he had failed those field sobriety tests and arrested him.
The jury was told about Vara’s two previous drunk driving convictions. They were never told, however, that Officer Lindsey’s credibility was severely undermined. He had been found guilty of misconduct 35 times. Among other violations, he had been investigated for manipulating DUI arrests to pad his overtime.
The jury was told that they had to decide who to believe — Vara or Officer Lindsey — but they weren’t given the information about Officer Lindsey’s history of misconduct and dishonesty, especially in DUI cases. They chose to believe the officer, and Vara went to prison.
We recommend reading USA TODAY’s full report. It’s an eye-opener.