Newsbrief: Federal Judge Rules Cops Can Lie on the Stand 10/22/04

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/359/knoxville.shtml

We've all heard about the "drug exception" to the Fourth Amendment, but what about the "drug exception" to the laws governing perjury? According to a Sunday report in the Knoxville (Tennessee) Sentinel-News, that may be okay, too. US District Court Magistrate Bruce Guyton ruled as much in an opinion in a complex undercover drug investigation issued last week, the newspaper reported.

A DEA-led task force had targeted Aaron Brown and his colleagues in a drug conspiracy investigation and concocted a ruse to get him. The task force used a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper who knew all about the conspiracy investigation to pull over Brown's vehicle on the pretext of a traffic violation. The trooper seized a pound of cocaine from Brown.

So far, so good. The trooper's behavior was sleazy, but legal. But then the trooper, Johnny McDonald, appeared in court to testify against Brown and proceeded to perjure himself. The only reason he stopped Brown's vehicle, he told the court, was because Brown had a temporary license tag on the car. McDonald failed to tell the court that the license tag was a ruse and that he was stopping Brown because he was the subject of a DEA investigation.

Because McDonald told the court the only reason for stopping the car was the temporary tag, the presiding sessions court judge ruled the stop was illegal and threw out the cocaine as evidence. But when Brown appeared in federal court on drug conspiracy charges and his attorney asked Magistrate Guyton to follow the sessions court's lead and throw out the evidence, Guyton demurred.

In a mind-boggling interpretation of federal law, Guyton held that it is not what officers say on the stand but what they really know that matters. "The legality of a stop must be judged by the objective facts known to the seizing officers rather than by the justifications articulated by them," Guyton wrote, citing a Sixth US Court of Appeals ruling. Most bizarrely, Magistrate Guyton refused to label McDonald a liar, instead writing that he found the trooper's testimony "credible."

While Guyton did not explicitly address the question of perjury, or "testilying," as it is known in cop-speak, he implicitly gave the practice a judicial thumbs-up by allowing the contested cocaine to be entered into evidence. In theory, Officer McDonald could be prosecuted criminally for perjury, but that is extremely unlikely to happen.

We wouldn't want little technicalities like truth and justice get in the way of the drug war, now, would we?

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