Should Prosecutors Require Police Officers to Swear to Their Honesty and Lack of Bias?
By Ken K. Gourdin
According to a Salt Lake Tribune story (found here, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57779822-78/lake-police-questionnaire-salt.html.csp) Davis County, Utah prosecutors have begun issuing forms to police officers set to testify asking them whether they’ve ever been accused of dishonesty or bias.
In response, I alluded to the moment in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in which Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey asked then-Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman if he was stating “on his oath” that he had never used an epithet that is derogatory to African-Americans. Salt Lake Police Department Chief Chris Burbank objects to having his officers fill out the form before testifying in each case because the procedure is cumbersome and time-consuming, and believes his officers simply should be allowed to “pre-certify” (my term) their honesty:
This is a great move. (I understand Chief Burbank’s objection, and I’m all for implementing the most efficient method of accomplishing the same objective, so either way …)
While the question wasn’t about Fuhrman’s honesty, per se (F. Lee Bailey was simply trying to prove Mark Fuhrman was a racist), anything that prevents a Bailey-Fuhrman moment (to a prosecutor’s horror) while an officer is on the stand is a good thing.
In a perfect world, neither the public nor prosecutors would have to worry about officers’ trustworthiness or bias, but, alas, this is far from a perfect world. In light of that fact, we must do what’s necessary. (And personally, if I were a prosecutor, and if I ever found out an officer lied on a form such as the one under discussion, I wouldn’t hesitate to prosecute him for perjury.)