Criminal Justice

Rare 'Perry Mason' moment in court wins dismissal for defendant, desk duty for 5 police officers

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Updated: A seemingly routine suppression hearing in a suburban Chicago courthouse last month took an unexpected dramatic turn when video from a police car was introduced that disproved the testimony of five police officers.

They had said Joseph Sperling was arrested after officers who pulled him over in a traffic stop smelled marijuana, searched the vehicle and found nearly a pound in a backpack lying on the back seat of his car. But the Glenview police video showed the search occurred only after Sperling was taken from his car, frisked and handcuffed, reports the Chicago Tribune (sub. req.). The newspaper dubbed it “a ‘Perry Mason’ moment rarely seen inside an actual courtroom.”

Castigating the officers for their “outrageous conduct,” Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn granted a defense motion to suppress the search, which eliminated a basis for his arrest and resulted in a swift dismissal by prosecutors of the felony drug case against the 23-year-old.

“All the officers lied on the stand today,” said Haberkorn, who herself is a former prosecutor, at the March 31 hearing. “So there is strong evidence it was conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie.”

The officers were later put on desk duty as investigations of their conduct proceed.

The Tribune says the Glenview arrest of Sperling last June came at the request of Chicago narcotics officers who had Sperling under surveillance. They asked local police to pull him over in a marked car, which occurred when Sperling allegedly failed to use his turn signal (he says he did). Then, one of the Chicago officers testified, he smelled marijuana as he waited for Sperling to produce his license and registration. Sperling testified he was never asked to do so.

The officer, supported by testimony from four other Chicago and Glenview officers, said he ordered Sperling to exit the vehicle and stand by the trunk as he searched it. However, the video shows the search didn’t occur until after Sperling was sitting, handcuffed, in a police car.

Another discrepancy in testimony concerned the location of the backpack in which the marijuana was located: Police said it was in plain view on the back seat of the car. Sperling said it was under the seat.

If not for the video, which Sperling’s lawyer Steven Goldman got by issuing a subpoena to the Glenview police department, and produced in rebuttal at the suppression hearing, Sperling likely would have been convicted and jailed, the attorney told the newspaper.

Now Sperling has filed a federal civil rights suit over his arrest.

Related coverage: “Another Perry Mason Moment in LA, as Police Testimony is Contradicted”

ABA Journal: “The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)”

Updated on April 17 to include link to subsequent post about Sperling’s civil suit.

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