Drug War Perjury Highlighted In Congressional Impeachment Hearings 12/4/98

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The ongoing congressional hearings on Presidential Impeachment took a turn of interest for drug policy reformers this week as Harvard Law School professor and Author Alan Dershowitz testified that the President's perjury pales in comparison with the culture of lying which has become ingrained in the criminal justice system. Dershowitz cited, among others, the Mollen Commission's recent findings, which claimed that perjury was so rampant among police officers that the practice had been given its own term in some law enforcement circles, "testilying," and Joseph McNamara, former chief of police of San Jose and Kansas City, and current fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution (and board member of the Drug Policy Foundation), who said that "hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit perjury every year testifying about drug arrests alone."

Dershowitz testified that not only did the President's misstatements under oath constitute the least important and damaging form of perjury (lying to avoid personal embarrassment where the lie was not materially relevant to the substance of the proceedings), which he called the nation's most common and least prosecuted crime, but that perjury is prosecuted selectively, if at all, with motivations ranging from the political to the tactical.

Dershowitz is far from the only national figure to point out the prevalence of perjury in criminal, and specifically drug enforcement, as evidenced by McNamara's quote. But it was encouraging for reformers to hear the problem referenced on such a national stage by such a respected figure.

The Week Online spoke with Professor Dershowitz.

WOL: In your testimony, you spoke about the impact of the drug war, and its prosecution, on the criminal justice process, particularly with regard to perjury by police officers. What has been the impact of the drug war on the system as a whole?

Dershowitz: Well, I think that drug wars have done more to undercut civil liberties than perhaps any other phenomenon in recent history. Start with the fact that we call it a war, and all's fair in war. In the minds of many officers, and prosecutors, they are just doing what they need to do to fight the war.

WOL: So you believe that Prohibition is a failed policy?

Dershowitz: Criminalizing drugs has actually created crime, and criminals. The drugs are out there, and we've insured that they're valuable. The drug war corrupts by its very nature.

WOL: How prevalent, in your view, has perjury become in the prosecution of the war?

Dershowitz: Perjury by police is rampant, and the vast majority of it concerns the circumstances of searches for drugs. It (the drug war) has had a deeply corrosive impact on the system in that regard. In most cases, there are no complaining witnesses in a drug transaction, and so it is far easier to convict if testimony is tailored to what the prosecutor needs to hear.

WOL: How can this problem be addressed?

Dershowitz: We as a society are going to have to think very hard about making changes in our response to drugs. Obviously we need to decriminalize marijuana, that's an easy issue. There are just no good arguments against it. We also need to look into medicalizing heroin addiction, as they are doing in some places in Europe. As to cocaine, that's a little tougher issue. But there is no doubt that there has to be a better system than we have now. We need an open-minded inquiry into our drug policy, because the current policy is causing tremendous damage.

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Issue #69, 12/4/98 DRCNet Projects and Campaigns | Alert: Show of Support Needed for New Jersey Needle Exchange | US Congress Triples Military Aid to Colombia | Report: New York State Now Spending More on Prisons than Higher Education | Drug War Perjury Highlighted In Congressional Impeachment Hearings | Thousands Protest at US Army School of the Americas | Swiss Legalization Referendum Fails, but Provides Hopeful Signs for Future | Coalition Seeking DC Election Results Grows | Editorial: Criminalizing our Children
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