Op-ed of the day: Who can we trust on the witness stand?

Last week, we did a show about psychology, the legal system and the bias inherent in jury deliberations. Our guest, law professor Steven Drizin, said that while courts try to eliminate jurors who can’t deal fairly with issues raised in a trial, the system doesn’t work perfectly.

On the individual level, we all bring into the court room our own biases and there is no way that they can all be revealed through questioning by lawyers.

Michelle Alexander argues in the New York Times that there’s another barrier to a fair trial: the police.

Thousands of people plead guilty to crimes every year in the United States because they know that the odds of a jury’s believing their word over a police officer’s are slim to none. As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? As one of my colleagues recently put it, “Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.”

But Alexander claims the police should be considered not just as likely to lie, but more likely to lie on the stand than other witnesses because the legal system rewards them for it.

In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in.

Read the rest of Alexander’s article here.