Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases


The Police Benefit from Lying Too

Many criminal cases come down to the word of a police officer versus the word of the accused. Frequently, in cases such as drug possession and traffic offenses, an officer’s testimony is the only evidence. When the judge or jury must decide who to believe, they almost always side with the officer. Utah juries seem to be particularly trusting of the Utah police. After all, they reason, the officer has no reason to lie, while the accused is trying to avoid punishment. That logic would be sound if it the assumptions were true, but police have incentives to lie, just like everyone else.

If you think about your own job or social circle, you’ll realize that people lie for many different reasons. It doesn’t take much encouragement to make certain people lie. You likely know someone who lies just to avoid looking dumb or to sound more interesting. Imagine if that person could lie to receive promotions, pay raises, or other accolades. Then imagine that nearly everyone would believe that person, regardless of how improbable the story, simply by virtue of holding a particular job title. A courtroom and a solemn oath is unlikely to keep that dishonest person from committing perjury.

Just like everyone else, the Utah police lie for many different reasons. This point was driven home a couple weeks ago when a Utah judge ruled a Utah Highway Patrol officer was not credible. Lisa Steed, the UHP officer, was even awarded the title of “UHP Trooper of the Year” in 2009 so even highly decorated officers can perjure themselves. In hindsight, it’s not clear why Officer Steed felt compelled to lie. Her stories were often improbable and far-fetched, and yet judges and juries believed her.

A jury must make some determination as to who is lying and who is telling the truth. If an officer’s testimony is the only evidence or the primary evidence against the accused, juries absolutely need to view the officer’s testimony skeptically. And if an officer testifies that a defendant did something improbable or contrary to common sense, a jury should find the defendant “not guilty.”

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You Can and Should Refuse Consent to the Police

Anytime the police ask you if they can look around your car/house/body, they aren’t being polite. They need your consent and you don’t have to give it. Every police officer has a personal style to the question, but their goal is to make it seem like they are just politely asking permission to do something they could do anyway. However, you have the right to refuse, but once you consent to a search, you have given up your constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches.

This is a common theme of my blog, but even my close friends have a difficult time remembering this. This past weekend, the subject of police searches came up, and I had to remind my friends that they can tell an officer that they don’t want them to snooping around their car.

Some people are afraid of being rude, but it’s easy to politely but firmly tell an officer, “no.” To get you in the right mindset, think of the request to search your car/house/body as a rude request. For example, if a new friend came over to your house and said to you, “Do you mind if I look around your medicine cabinet? I just want to know what kind of person you are.” No matter how politely the friend said it, most of us would be flabbergasted. That’s really how you should think of any request to search you. They are asking to snoop around our private effects, and it’s within our rights to refuse. Regardless of whether the police will find anything illegal, I don’t like strangers rummaging through my personal belongings.