Ohio police officer Bobby Cutts is on trial for the murder
of Jessie Davis. Should any previous biases for or against police officers
affect a juror's judgment?
The last time my wife was called for jury duty she admitted
to me that she hoped that if she were be selected as a juror the trial and the
jury decision would not hinge on the testimony of a policeman or city
detective. As she is very straight laced and has never violated a single law or
had any contact with law enforcement I was at a loss to understand her
statement concerning the viability/credibility of law enforcement. To the best
of my knowledge she and we had no reason to doubt the integrity of our local
Seeing the questioning look on my face she explained how she
had been negatively influenced against policemen in general after watching wall
to wall coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial. Initially she was convinced of
Simpson's guilt, but as the trial wore on and powerful defense attorneys led by
Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz presented evidence of the
mishandling of evidence and hints of planted evidence by the Los Angles
detectives Furman, Vanatter and Lange she began to have doubts of Simpson's
guilt and seriously questioned whether racism and an overly zealous desire to
convict at all cost was driving the detectives to misrepresent if not plant
evidence in the case.
After building a highly speculative case against the
veracity and motives of the detectives on the case F. Lee Baily shocked the
world by providing a tape recorded some ten years earlier in which detective
Furman used the "N" word repeatedly in reference to Afro-Americans.
Furman had earlier denied ever having used the word while under oath. He was
later indicted for and pleaded no contest to charges of perjury.
Many observers of the trial, including my wife, decided that
this one proven lie validated all of the other implications of lies made by the
While I disagree with my wife's conclusions concerning the
motives and veracity of the detectives in the Simpson trial her reaction does
suggest that the past and present actions by law enforcement officers can and
do have a significant effect on their credibility. I believe this to be
especially true when it comes to jury acceptance of testimony by law
enforcement personnel. The Simpson jury verdict may be evidence of this.
Looking back in my own personal experience with law
enforcement I can find a couple examples in which my dealings with police did
not improve my relationship with local law enforcement:
My first experience with the police came when I was 16 years
old. I had recently gotten a driver's license and used a car to drive to and
from work after school. Two nights a week I worked until midnight. On leaving
work I would drop a fellow worker, also a teenager at his home. One night
driving my co-worker home at 12:15 AM I noticed a police patrol car following
closely behind me. I was well within the speed limit and was actually relieved
to see the police there. I felt safer for their presence. After ten minutes the
police car flashed its' blue light and signaled its' siren for me to pull over,
which I did immediately. As I reached for my my driver's license two officers
approached the car one on each side and simultaneously pulled open the doors
and wrestled both of us from the car. We were face down in the gutter with an
officer's knee in our back before we knew what was happening.
When I attempted to question the officer I was told to
Both officers asked how much we had had to drink. ( I was 16
and had spent the past 8 hours unloading freight trucks and mopping floors in a
large grocery store where I was employed).
When I denied ever drinking these two officers insisted they
could smell alcohol on our breath and hinted there also a smell of weed.
They began tearing my old car apart. Seat cushions were
removed and torn, glove compartment items raked out into the floor, and floor
mats ripped up during the "search".
Finding nothing the two officers were furious and proceeded
to write a ticket for speeding, claiming I was driving 20 MPH in a 15
Two weeks later I had to take time away from my job to go to
traffic court. The Judge on reading the charge questioned whether the area in
which I was ticketed was a 15 MPH zone. For whatever reason he had knowledge
that this area now had a limit of 20 MPH. Case Dismissed, but I had lost sleep
and two hours of pay all over trumped up charges from two rookie policemen
looking for fun.
Would that incident effect my opinion of police testimony in
a trial? As much as I would like to say "no" I can only say I have
never forgotten the incident and believe it does influence my opinion as to the
credibility of some policemen.
A second incident early in my life which added to my concern
for police credibility involved an operation in the grocery store in which I
The store manage concerned over a very high level of shop
lifting had hired an off duty police to surveil the store from behind a hidden
screen which gave viewing access to the various aisles of the store. The
policeman would watch until some unsuspecting shopper concealed an item either
in a shopping bag or under clothing and proceeded to checkout without paying.
At this time he would walk to the checkout station and once the suspect left
the store with the concealed item would confront them by flashing his badge at
which point he would ticket them for petty theft.
It was a good and necessary plan as the store was losing a
substantial amount of money as a result of theft.
However after six months of this activity most of the
shoplifters had either been apprehended or aware of the operation took their
business elsewhere. Arrests fell off dramatically to only one or two a month.
Fearing well paying after hours job was about to end the
police officer developed a scheme in which he on seeing formerly arrested
shoplifters would target them by confronting them outside the store and
producing evidence he, the policeman, had planted on their person. His favorite
plants were relatively small items which could be concealed and dropped in the
suspect's pocket or purse without detection. He would carry with him small
bottles of inexpensive perfume, or deodorant, of after shave (which by the way
he had taken from store shelves without benefit of payment).
It was not until (unknown to him) the store installed a
surveillance camera and caught the crooked policeman in the act.
Would this influence my opinion of police testimony in a
In writing the above, I fully realize that many/most
policemen are honest, dedicated public servants. However when the question is
posed would your former contact with law enforcement weigh in your judgment of
their credibility.....I have to answer "yes".
2008 © Associated Content, All