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
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?
-- END --
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
WOL: So you believe
that Prohibition is a failed policy?
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
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.
Issue #69, 12/4/98
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