How to deal with potentially biased testimony

In Minnesota and throughout the country, there is an ongoing debate about accepting testimony from police officers with histories of misconduct. It was recently revealed that officers in Lake County, Florida, were making racist comments on a Facebook page. A letter from a variety of progressive groups was sent to the Florida state attorney asking that officers that make such comments not be called to testify at trial.

The letter claims that holding these views could make it harder for them to be seen as objective witnesses. Another letter sent to the district attorney in Los Angeles also claims that biased testimony could harm communities and call into question the objectivity of the legal system. Some jurisdictions already have what are referred to as Brady lists, which keep track of officers who have not been truthful in previous cases.

While officers on those lists may not be barred from testifying, that information can be used to create reasonable doubt by a defense attorney. However, these lists are generally not made available to the public. Police unions have said that the disclosure laws are too broad and that they could violate an officer’s right to privacy. The fact that police departments can’t or won’t hold officers accountable is why these lists are so valuable, according to citizen advocacy groups.

A state or federal criminal defense attorney may use a variety of tactics to help a defendant get a favorable outcome in his or her case. One of these tactics may be to dispute the testimony provided by an officer. If an officer is known to have a history of lying or holding biased views, it may create doubt in a juror’s mind. This could be enough to get a jury to acquit a defendant.