'Testilying' by police on stand is rarely punished, Chicago Tribune reports

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At a pretrial hearing in November, a Chicago police officer explained to an Illinois judge how police had happened to find a $50,000 brick of cocaine in a minivan occupied by Miguel Rodriguez and Antonio Garcia.

He and his partner, while working undercover on a narcotics surveillance on the city’s Southwest Side, had made a traffic stop of a minivan that turned right without signaling, the officer testified. Then, after it pulled over, he saw a “clear, knotted bag” on the floor of the vehicle, which he suspected contained cocaine. Once Rodriguez and Garcia were in custody, police searched the van and found the cocaine brick under the front seat, the Chicago Tribune (reg. req.) reported in a lengthy article.

Defense lawyers scoffed at the explanation, arguing that two veteran officers would not step aside from a surveillance for a traffic stop over a turn signal, and Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks was skeptical, too.

“So, let me understand this correctly,” he said while the officer was still on the stand. “You just happened to have been parked on the street when this vehicle came past and committed a traffic violation, and then you stopped it and the $50,000 worth of narcotics was in the vehicle?”

“Correct,” the officer replied.

Hooks granted a motion to suppress the evidence, citing what he called “a very clear falsehood by the sole testifying witness,” according to a court transcript reviewed by the Tribune.

The government dropped the case, and later, after Hooks pushed for an investigation by police and the state’s attorney’s office, said the matter is being reviewed.

However, it appears as of this point that no action has been taken against the officer, according to the newspaper. Nor has any other Chicago police officer been disciplined between February 2012 and February 2016 concerning what some defense lawyers call “testilying,” the Tribune reports.

After Tribune inquiries, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said its professional standards unit is reviewing several possible perjury incidents. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department has asked the Cook County public defender’s office to alert the DOJ about possible false testimony, the newspaper reports.

And prosecutors are offering an additional measure of protection—a “disclosure notice” will be issued by the state’s attorney’s office to the defense in some of the cases spotlighted in the Tribune article, alerting lawyers—and the police department—that the credibility of a witness has previously been questioned.

Although the state’s attorney’s office didn’t describe the disclosure notice as a new concept, according to the newspaper, a number of defense lawyers said they had never received or heard of one.

When discipline—and even perjury cases—are pursued against police officers who apparently lied, it is usually because there is video footage of the incident at issue, the article says.

That’s what happened in one case in which city and suburban lawmen testified that a 23-year-old man pulled over by Chicago narcotics officers in the suburb of Glenview had been stopped because he failed to signal a turn. Then, smelling marijuana, police said, they searched his vehicle.

But, unbeknownst to the arresting officers, a dashcam in a suburban police vehicle was operating. It showed that the suspect had already been frisked and handcuffed before his vehicle was searched, as an ABAJournal.com post at the time detailed.

After castigating the officers, the judge suppressed the evidence against Joseph Sperling. Four officers have since been charged with perjury over their handling of the case.

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