In cases that come down to the word of a police officer against that of a defendant, juries often believe the police officer.
However, thousands of defendants in the United States ended up behind bars on the uncorroborated evidence of discredited officers, according to a new survey.
A USA TODAY Network investigation highlighted the “widespread failure by police departments and prosecutors to track problem officers.”
A team from USA TODAY and the Chicago-based Invisible Institute spent a year collecting evidence. The investigation found many prosecutors and police are failing to comply with a landmark 1963 ruling in the case of Brady v. Maryland.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case that prosecutors must tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might assist their defense at trial. This includes sharing all the details about police officers who have committed crimes, lied or whose honesty has been called into doubt.
The investigation found at least 300 prosecutors’ offices nationwide are failing to take steps to comply with the Supreme Court mandates. The jurisdictions lack lists tracking dishonest or untrustworthy police officers. They include cities such as Little Rock and Chicago and smaller communities across the United States.
The investigation found even in many places that keep Brady lists, prosecutors and police won’t make them public, making it impossible to know whether they are following U.S. Supreme Court mandated law.
USA TODAY found at least 1,200 officers with verifiable histories of lying and other serious misconduct issues who prosecutors failed to flag.
The investigation singled out Revat Vara from Houston in Texas. Vara was pulled over for a missing license plate in 2006. Police gave him a sobriety test, instructing him to walk in a straight line.
Vara said he had not consumed any alcohol that night and he passed the sobriety test. Officer William Lindsey disagreed.
At Vara’s trial jurors were told Lindsey was an expert at evaluating drunken drivers. They were told Vara had two previous DWIs.
Jurors were never told the police officer had been found guilty of misconduct by his department no less than 35 times. He was investigated for overtime irregularities. He manipulated DWI arrests so he would have to be called to testify, as well as numerous other violations, USA TODAY reported.
The jurors at the trial believed the police officer. It was his word against Vara’s in the absence of breathalyzer evidence. Because of his previous offenses, Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Police and prosecutors in Houston were aware of Lindsey’s record. Neither Vara nor his defense lawyer were aware of the police officer’s history at the time of the trial.
The revelations about non-compliance with Brady requirements come as exonerations following wrongful convictions continue to rise.
Figures from the National Registry of Exonerations found cases overturned because of official misconduct and perjury by prosecutors or police more than doubled in the decade from 2008 to 2018.
As experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers, we know at first hand how a police officer’s testimony can sway a case against a defendant. It’s vital that the jury knows whether an officer has a record of deception or dishonesty at the time of the trial. It’s not just vital, it’s the law. If you or a family member has been charged with an offense please contact our defense team today.