Not all cops who lie are willing to perjure themselves. Many times cops on the witness stand tell different stories (the truth) than what they had put in their offense reports (lies). Unfortunately, though, most cases never make it to trial (often the lies are too small to be relied upon to affect the outcome), so prosecutors — despite having seen this happen more than I have — rely on offense reports as the literal truth in deciding how to resolve cases. (The lesson to defense lawyers is, of course, not to make that mistake, to listen to your client, and to remember that good things happen when you try cases. Nobody ever got acquitted by pleading guilty.)
I can’t tell you how many times I have cross-examined a cop in a suppression hearing or preliminary hearing, where something completely different comes out of his mouth than what he wrote in his police report. I think that what obviously happens is that the cops do whatever they want initially. They pull the person over on a “hunch,” or search the person or their premises illegally, without regards to mere rules or laws, then they put in their “report” a little white lie – that they received a tip from an undercover informant, or that the person drove erratically, or that the person consented to being searched. This, in their mind, validates the search, stop, or seizure if they found anything incriminating. Then, several months later, they get called to the witness stand, and they fail to review the report, but their memory is not totally in sync with their report.
Cops don’t fear prosecution for perjury because there is almost a 0% chance they will be prosecuted. The cops – or judges for that matter – could care less. The only, only, only situation in which there could be criminal liability imposed on a cop for perjury is if they are caught on tape or under oath, and if it is blatantly intentional. Only if the situation is such that a prosecutor of judge would fear for his or her own job if they fail to act. Otherwise, they will always be given the benefit of the doubt, if not just a shrug of the shoulders.
As a defense attorney, you know they are lying, but there is not much you can do about it other than to contest it and to create a record for your trial or your appeal. As Mark Bennett, said, “nobody ever got acquitted by pleading guilty.”
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.