Officers who Lied in California Drug Trial to get Probation
It seemed at the outset to a be a routine drug possession case.
It would end with the tables reversed, and the arresting officers facing prison time.
A 29-year-old suspected gang member was accused of leading police on a foot chase, wherein he tossed a black object containing what police would later describe as a pouch with crack cocaine inside, which they found immediately near his feet. Possession alone, absent any aggravating factors, would be a felony charge punishable by up to three years in prison.
Rancho Cucamonga defense lawyers, alongside the rest of Southern California, would later see the officers' version of events upended at trial.
A surveillance tape from the apartment where the arrest took place dropped a bombshell on the case. It refuted the officers' assertion that they had found the drugs immediately. The tape appears to show it took took several officers more than 20 minutes to find the drugs.
Though the tape was poor quality, one officer appears to tell another to "be creative" in the writing of the arrest report. The other replies "no doubt."
Both officers and prosecutors in the case say they had no idea the surveillance video existed. Indeed, if they had, it's unlikely the case would have gotten to the trial phase.
The defendant's attorney had always insisted the drugs didn't belong to his client and the charges were trumped up. Prosecutors said the apparent "inconsistencies" were enough that they couldn't move forward with the case. This was particularly because the drug charges rested almost entirely on the word of the two officers who had been involved. That video prove their word was compromised.
The courts took it a step further last November, when a jury convicted the pair of multiple counts of perjury and one count each of conspiracy. The officers faced six and seven years in prison, respectively. By then, both had already lost their jobs and been stripped of their badges.
Prosecutors sought a minimum of three years for each.
Now, the two have been given their sentences: probation and community service.
What inevitably helped them to avoid prison time was the judge's consideration of their prior public service and their spotless prior records.
The bigger issue in this case, however, is that it reveals once again that the word of law enforcement officers is not infallible. This tends to be more commonplace with drug-related crimes. Just ask former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane, who penned an article recently for the San Francisco Chronicle revealing that lying under oath is the norm in narcotics units. He called it the "routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America."
A New York Times opinion piece written earlier this year highlighted the numerous reasons that police - and narcotics officers in particular - have to fudge the truth. Among those is the fact that officers are rewarded based on the number of stops, searches and arrests - never mind the strength of the case.
It's a wonder then that anyone seems surprised when we hear of cases in which drug officers have lied. Our criminal defense lawyers operate on the assumption that something on their end is amiss.
In some cases, it may not matter whether you are innocent. If an officer has lied or in any way botched the proper legal procedure in your case, the charges against you will likely be dismissed.
Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Rancho Cucamonga.Additional Resources
LAPD Officers avoid prison for lying in drug case, June 25, 2013, By Jack Leonard, The Los Angeles Times.