August 5, 2019 | Criminal Defense
Police officers are often the most compelling witnesses in criminal prosecutions because juries tend to find their testimony extremely convincing. This is why civil rights groups in several states recently sent letters that urged prosecutors to compile lists of law enforcement personnel who have behaved in ways that call their impartiality and professionalism into question. One of these letters was sent by groups including ACLU California to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
In the letter, the groups urged prosecutors not to pursue cases brought by officers with a history of racism, bias, or dishonesty. The letters were prompted by media coverage of a series of violent and racist Facebook posts made by law enforcement officers in Florida. Civil rights groups are also calling for these lists to be scrutinized and administered by an independent body. Some of these groups have gone so far as to compile lists of their own based on public information that they are making available to defense attorneys and advocacy organizations.
Police unions strongly oppose what are known as Brady lists and claim that they violate the privacy rights of officers. The lists are named after a Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over potentially exculpatory material to criminal defendants and their attorneys. A case currently before the Supreme Court of California was brought by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs to prevent such a list from being handed over to prosecutors.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may follow media stories involving police corruption, racism or dishonesty closely, and they could revisit old cases when they discover that the officers involved gave evidence against their clients. Attorneys preparing for a criminal trial may also scrutinize the social media activity of all the witnesses prosecutors are likely to call for evidence that could raise doubts about their reliability or impartiality.