Thousands of people in the United States suffer criminal charges or years in prison based in part on testimony from police officers who lied, a USA TODAY investigation found.
The problems in many of the cases feature prosecutors in district attorney's offices nationwide failing to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires full disclosure of evidence, according to USA TODAY.
The 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland requires that prosecutors tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might help their defense at trial. That includes sharing details about police officers who have committed crimes, lied on the job or whose honesty has been called into doubt.
USA TODAY and the Invisible Institute spent over a year gathering information from thousands of counties to measure compliance with Brady v. Maryland and, specifically, the compiling of so-called Brady lists.
The investigation found a widespread failure by police departments and prosecutors to track problem officers. That makes it impossible to disclose information about credibility-challenged cops to people whose freedom hinges on the integrity of law enforcement.
Nearly half the prosecutorial districts that responded to USA TODAY reported not keeping an official list of police officers officially found to have lied or whose credibility has been questioned. More than 1,000 districts did not respond to requests for information.
When police lie, innocent people pay
The probe into when police lies get people sent to prison found:
- Thousands of people have faced criminal charges or gone to prison based in part on testimony from law enforcement officers deemed to have credibility problems by their bosses or by prosecutors.
- At least 300 prosecutors’ offices across the nation are failing to comply with the Supreme Court mandates. This means they're not tracking dishonest or otherwise untrustworthy officers. They include big cities like Chicago and smaller communities like Jackson County, Minnesota.
- In many places that keep lists, police and prosecutors refuse to make them public. This makes it impossible to know whether they are following the law.
- Other police departments and prosecutors’ offices keep lists that are incomplete. USA TODAY identified at least 1,200 officers with proven histories of lying and other serious misconduct. These officers hadn't been flagged by prosecutors. Of those officers, 261 were disciplined specifically for dishonesty on the job.
Most prosecutors who don’t keep a “Brady list” said they don’t need one. They said they know all their police officers well.
Others raised concerns about unfairly jeopardizing officers’ jobs by placing them on a list based on minor or unfounded accusations.
In Baltimore, more than 530 police officers have been added to an internal notification system. Defense attorneys are contacted if those officers are considered by prosecutors as witnesses.
What did the USA Today investigation show?
In Miami-Dade County, Florida, training presentations obtained by USA TODAY show prosecutors being taught tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories.
The USA Today investigation found there is no comprehensive rule for what kind of behavior lands an officer on a Brady list. It also showed few repercussions for police and prosecutors who flout the requirement.
Since 1988, data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows 987 people have been convicted, then exonerated in cases that involved a combination of official misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or a false report by police and other witnesses. Those people spent an average of 12 years each behind bars.
Contact The Webb Firm in Texas today for help with cases involving police officers officially determined to have lied or who have other credibility problems.