When I was growing up, every kid knew this jingle:

Liar, liar, 
Pants on fire.
Hanging from a telephone wire.

Nevertheless, on September 21, 2010, Chicago Police Officer Sylshina London did what literally hundreds of police officers do every year in the United States: she helped convict someone by lying to a jury.

The practice — far, far, far more common than the average American could possibly imagine — is so widespread that it even has a name: Testilying. And I’ve written about a number of times, particularly in my article of the same name.

I can’t prove that testilying has become more common than it was in the past — part of the problem with testilying is that it’s frequently difficult or impossible to prove — but it certainly appears that officers are increasingly willing to lie. It is possible that the phenomenon has always been more widespread than I knew before I became an attorney, but even older officers with whom I’ve spoken seem to think it has become more accepted among younger officers.

In any event, it certainly is endemic to the system these days.

I think the reason so many officers lie is, to put it simply, because they believe they can. It’s part of the same ethic I was discussing yesterday, when I talked about officers who ignore the rights of the People because they can, because of the “I am the Law around here” attitude. It’s the same thing that causes police officers generally to ignore the Law’s applicability to them in all things, large or small. (How many times have you seen a police officer speeding, without lights or siren? How many times have you noticed them weaving in and out of traffic, again, without sirens or lights? I even once saw an officer sitting at a red light who, without sirens or lights, proceeded through the light after sitting for a few seconds. At least he looked both ways first. Wish I could do that without fear of a ticket!)

The problem with testilying goes beyond the possibility that innocent people might be convicted. It goes beyond sending someone to jail, or prison, and saddling them with a criminal record. Our system, ostensibly about justice (despite what some attorneys believe, it is referred to as the criminal justice system), depends upon fairness in the procedures used to convict even those who are guilty.

Our society continues to support lying police officers because we don’t see them for what they are: destroyers of justice. In a word, they are criminals. More than that, they are the worst sort of criminals, because their lies destroy that which is basic to a free society.

Think about it. A thief, a robber, even a murderer, takes something from a few individuals. Seldom, however, does their crime actually impact the core structures of our society. A lying police officer, though, tears at the very fabric that makes society possible. Without a system that society can trust to “dispense justice,” or “maintain order,” or “redress grievances” in a fair and honest manner, there is no social contract.

This is because, when officers lie in court, there is no Rule of Law. As the Wikipedia article just linked notes:

The rule of law is a legal maxim that provides that no person is above the law, that no one can be punished by the state except for a breach of the law, and that no one can be convicted of breaching the law except in the manner set forth by the law itself. The rule of law stands in contrast to the idea that the leader is above the law, a feature of Roman law, Nazi law, and certain other legal systems.

When a police officer lies in the courtroom, he is putting himself above the law; an individual is potentially being punished not for a breach of the law, but because the officer doesn’t want him to go unpunished; and the individual is not punished in the manner set forth by the law, which requires an examination of testimony which is supposed to be truthful (remember the Oath: to tell the Truth, the whole Truth?).

The ubiquitousness of cameras is, for some people, beginning to bring to light the lies of police officers, as it did with Officer London’s testilying. This is one reason police officers are fighting so hard to make it illegal for ordinary citizens — we the People — to record what they do. Even (2015 update: Link has vanished) news reporters are not safe.

Fortunately, some courts are finding such laws a violation of the United States Constitution.

But we need to go farther than simply recognizing the rights of citizens to tape officers. Jurors need to seriously take to heart the questions asked of them when they go in for jury duty: will you give more weight to the words of a police officer just because he wears a uniform? Many times, jurors will tell you that they won’t. Ironically, the truth (cops aren’t the only ones who lie!) is that usually the uniformed police officer is believed over other witnesses, no matter how unlikely the officer’s version — no matter how many other witnesses’ testimony contradicts the police version.

Sadly, when police are the liars, it’s usually the innocent who are burned.

19 comments

  1. HA! A story like this feeds into a lot of people’s emotions and how they feel about the experiences they have encountered by the police. I know this police officer personally. I know for sure she is NO liar! No one is speaking out on her behalf however this is the Chicago Police Department’s dirty little secret. The woman who struck the officer in the face is related to a boss on the job and when the officer refused NOT to pursue the criminal charges, the officer was harassed. This case is in retaliation against this officer. I am disgusted with the police department. The officer has been WRONGFULLY CONVICTED. Get a copy of the video tape and you will see the true liars and the corruption…CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT.

    1. “Justice Due” — it’s very difficult to believe someone who can’t even post their own name, but hides behind anonymity to make claims contrary to the evidence.

      In my experience, getting a prosecutor to drop drop a charge and prosecute a police officer for perjury is about as likely as my flying to the moon.

      According to investigators, a video was obtained and showed that the officer was the liar. If you’ve evidence other than the fact that you “know this [former] police officer personally,” you may feel free to post it, or a link to it, here.

      Otherwise, it appears that the lying former officer’s friend is also a liar.

      P.S. Thanks for adding my link as if it were your own. I have removed it from your submission.

  2. HA! A story like this feeds into a lot of people’s emotions and how they feel about the experiences they have encountered by the police. I know this police officer personally. I know for sure she is NO liar! No one is speaking out on her behalf however this is the Chicago Police Department’s dirty little secret. The woman who struck the officer in the face is related to a boss on the job and when the officer refused NOT to pursue the criminal charges, the officer was harassed. This case is in retaliation against this officer. I am disgusted with the police department. The officer has been WRONGFULLY CONVICTED. Get a copy of the video tape and you will see the true liars and the corruption…CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT.

    1. “Justice Due” — it’s very difficult to believe someone who can’t even post their own name, but hides behind anonymity to make claims contrary to the evidence.

      In my experience, getting a prosecutor to drop drop a charge and prosecute a police officer for perjury is about as likely as my flying to the moon.

      According to investigators, a video was obtained and showed that the officer was the liar. If you’ve evidence other than the fact that you “know this [former] police officer personally,” you may feel free to post it, or a link to it, here.

      Otherwise, it appears that the lying former officer’s friend is also a liar.

      P.S. Thanks for adding my link as if it were your own. I have removed it from your submission.

  3. i have a problem trusting police and lack respect for them after having a misconduct experience during a traffic stop. there is a lot of issues that i am leaving out to make a long story short.
    during this stop, i allowed them to search my car while another kept taking me out of their unit to do sobriety tests on me. each time they shined their flashlight around the back seat to check if i tried stashing something. after all of this was done and they said i could go home, i turned around and asked for a domestic violence brochure because it had phone numbers in it. the officer went into his trunk (where they keep everything), retrieved the brochure and walked over to hand it to me. when i turned around to get into my car and go home, i heard one mumble something to another. next thing i know im being grabbed and my arms forced behind my back. when the officer turned me around to walk me back to the unit, i saw another officer in the action of picking up a bag of a white substance out of the back of the unit i had been sitting in. i knew it wasnt mine and mind you, i have no drug record. the MAIN POINT to this story is that i sustained a neck injury during this routine stop that could someday leave me paralized from the neck down. Also that some police are corrupt and cant be trusted.

  4. i have a problem trusting police and lack respect for them after having a misconduct experience during a traffic stop. there is a lot of issues that i am leaving out to make a long story short.
    during this stop, i allowed them to search my car while another kept taking me out of their unit to do sobriety tests on me. each time they shined their flashlight around the back seat to check if i tried stashing something. after all of this was done and they said i could go home, i turned around and asked for a domestic violence brochure because it had phone numbers in it. the officer went into his trunk (where they keep everything), retrieved the brochure and walked over to hand it to me. when i turned around to get into my car and go home, i heard one mumble something to another. next thing i know im being grabbed and my arms forced behind my back. when the officer turned me around to walk me back to the unit, i saw another officer in the action of picking up a bag of a white substance out of the back of the unit i had been sitting in. i knew it wasnt mine and mind you, i have no drug record. the MAIN POINT to this story is that i sustained a neck injury during this routine stop that could someday leave me paralized from the neck down. Also that some police are corrupt and cant be trusted.

  5. Cops lie. That’s the bottom line. How do I know? They did it to convict me of an imaginary crime that never even happened. My alleged crime, RA. Resisting Arrest. The cop signs the complaint and hands it to me on my way out after making bail and it says I resisted by turning my back to him and trying to re-enter my home.

    He gets into Court and the cop says he told me to turn around and put my hands behind my back and that I faced him and pushed his arm away. His partner said that after he “advised me” I resisted by turning my back and attempting to enter my home. I must have been spinning like a top!

    NOPE, actually I was already handcuffed, beaten up, and put into the back of a police car before their alleged incident ocurred. I have phone records to prove that I wasn’t even in the building when they say they “arrested” me. All of my injuries show I was grabbed from behind by the left side of my neck and my right wrist.

    No Judge or Investigator wants to look into it because they are corrupt up to the top of the Courthouses. Chicago and it’s Suburbs are SICK and they have abandoned all moral principles and the rule of law. Chicago is now ruled by thugs dressed in uniforms and carrying guns all paid for with your tax dollars.

    Unfortunately this is not unique. My understanding is that as long as Americans hide their heads in the sand and do not admit that cops are running amok and ruining the lives of innocent citizens by testilying, and as long as we are condoning bullying by cops of our citizens, it will continue. WAKE UP AMERICA, IT IS TIME TO STOP COP CORRUPTION.

  6. Cops lie. That’s the bottom line. How do I know? They did it to convict me of an imaginary crime that never even happened. My alleged crime, RA. Resisting Arrest. The cop signs the complaint and hands it to me on my way out after making bail and it says I resisted by turning my back to him and trying to re-enter my home.

    He gets into Court and the cop says he told me to turn around and put my hands behind my back and that I faced him and pushed his arm away. His partner said that after he “advised me” I resisted by turning my back and attempting to enter my home. I must have been spinning like a top!

    NOPE, actually I was already handcuffed, beaten up, and put into the back of a police car before their alleged incident ocurred. I have phone records to prove that I wasn’t even in the building when they say they “arrested” me. All of my injuries show I was grabbed from behind by the left side of my neck and my right wrist.

    No Judge or Investigator wants to look into it because they are corrupt up to the top of the Courthouses. Chicago and it’s Suburbs are SICK and they have abandoned all moral principles and the rule of law. Chicago is now ruled by thugs dressed in uniforms and carrying guns all paid for with your tax dollars.

    Unfortunately this is not unique. My understanding is that as long as Americans hide their heads in the sand and do not admit that cops are running amok and ruining the lives of innocent citizens by testilying, and as long as we are condoning bullying by cops of our citizens, it will continue. WAKE UP AMERICA, IT IS TIME TO STOP COP CORRUPTION.

  7. One more story.

    Approximately three years ago I was BC’s Pizza & Beer in Clovis. While there I ran into a guy I knew from high school but hadn’t seen in eight years or so. He asked me what I was doing for a living, and then I asked him the same. He told me he was a cop for Madera PD. He was very proud. He starts launching into how he loves pulling over people who ‘thought they were cool’ in high school and how he gets to show them who’s boss. He bragged about how fun it was beating up teenagers. After listening to this for a couple minutes I point blank asked him, “So many cops that you work with would you say are corrupt?” He responded back, “What do you mean by ‘corrupt’? Like ‘Training Day’ corrupt?” I said, “Ya, ok.” He then told me, “Only like 10% of us are that hardcore.” He was under the impression for some reason that I would think that was cool. If 10% of local cops are ‘Training Day’ corrupt, we’re in big trouble.

  8. One more story.

    Approximately three years ago I was BC’s Pizza & Beer in Clovis. While there I ran into a guy I knew from high school but hadn’t seen in eight years or so. He asked me what I was doing for a living, and then I asked him the same. He told me he was a cop for Madera PD. He was very proud. He starts launching into how he loves pulling over people who ‘thought they were cool’ in high school and how he gets to show them who’s boss. He bragged about how fun it was beating up teenagers. After listening to this for a couple minutes I point blank asked him, “So many cops that you work with would you say are corrupt?” He responded back, “What do you mean by ‘corrupt’? Like ‘Training Day’ corrupt?” I said, “Ya, ok.” He then told me, “Only like 10% of us are that hardcore.” He was under the impression for some reason that I would think that was cool. If 10% of local cops are ‘Training Day’ corrupt, we’re in big trouble.

  9. As you stated: ” But the truth does not depend on one’s point of view. That’s actually one of the fallacies police officers use to justify lying. “Well, as far as I was concerned, it was true,” is one of the first ways to spot a lie being presented by an officer.” Really? If that were the case, we wouldn’t need trials or attorneys. If the truth was the truth, then the matter would be over. But the truth is only seen as the truth from your perspective. The prosecutor believes one truth while you believe another. Hence the adversarial process of the court room. Somewhere in between the tryer of fact will determine, based on the arguments, what is the best decision.

    You said it best, some defense attorneys try to trick Officers. That is why they hesitate. I hesitate often when answering questions put forth to me by defense attorneys. Why? Because I need to give the prosecutor time to object as well as think about the answer. Prosecutors ask question we pretty much know the answer to and we know what questions are going to come. Defense attorneys come up with some interesting questions. Do I lie on the stand? Nope. But I take my time in answering questions. Are you saying you tell your witnesses to snap out answers on cross by the prosecution? I highly doubt it. You probably tell them to think about the answer. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    You may be surprised, but I completely agree with your last paragraph. Whole heartedly. I am a firm believer in Blackstone’s Formulation. 10 guilty men go free rather than one innocent man suffer.

    Keep up the good work Counselor.

    ///Chris\

  10. As you stated: ” But the truth does not depend on one’s point of view. That’s actually one of the fallacies police officers use to justify lying. “Well, as far as I was concerned, it was true,” is one of the first ways to spot a lie being presented by an officer.” Really? If that were the case, we wouldn’t need trials or attorneys. If the truth was the truth, then the matter would be over. But the truth is only seen as the truth from your perspective. The prosecutor believes one truth while you believe another. Hence the adversarial process of the court room. Somewhere in between the tryer of fact will determine, based on the arguments, what is the best decision.

    You said it best, some defense attorneys try to trick Officers. That is why they hesitate. I hesitate often when answering questions put forth to me by defense attorneys. Why? Because I need to give the prosecutor time to object as well as think about the answer. Prosecutors ask question we pretty much know the answer to and we know what questions are going to come. Defense attorneys come up with some interesting questions. Do I lie on the stand? Nope. But I take my time in answering questions. Are you saying you tell your witnesses to snap out answers on cross by the prosecution? I highly doubt it. You probably tell them to think about the answer. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    You may be surprised, but I completely agree with your last paragraph. Whole heartedly. I am a firm believer in Blackstone’s Formulation. 10 guilty men go free rather than one innocent man suffer.

    Keep up the good work Counselor.

    ///Chris\

  11. I have only a few run-ins the ‘law enforcement’, but my experiences have shown me that cops lie.

    1. I was pulled over for going 85 in a 65 by CHP. After I wouldn’t tell him how fast I was going, the officer wrote me up for 108. After I requested to see the radar reading, and then requested to have a supervisor come verify it, the officer threatened to plant drugs in my car that would send me to prison. I went ahead and signed the $2,200 ticket.

    2. I got a DUI a couple years ago, where the officer claimed I ran two stop signs and did ‘doughnuts’ in a campground. (None of which was true.) Luckily, the officer lied sooooo incredibly much in his police report, the judge actually caught it and kept reminding the officer over and over that he was under oath. The judge stopped him from talking and dismissed the case immediately. Nothing happened to the officer for purjuring himself though.

    3. I’ve also witnessed a police brutality case (of a complete stranger) that I testified in, where the officers were completely lying. The sick part was, the victim of the police actually had not even committed even so much as a minor crime, yet he left in a stretcher.

    All three of these cases were local, and I’ve had several friends with similar stories.

  12. I have only a few run-ins the ‘law enforcement’, but my experiences have shown me that cops lie.

    1. I was pulled over for going 85 in a 65 by CHP. After I wouldn’t tell him how fast I was going, the officer wrote me up for 108. After I requested to see the radar reading, and then requested to have a supervisor come verify it, the officer threatened to plant drugs in my car that would send me to prison. I went ahead and signed the $2,200 ticket.

    2. I got a DUI a couple years ago, where the officer claimed I ran two stop signs and did ‘doughnuts’ in a campground. (None of which was true.) Luckily, the officer lied sooooo incredibly much in his police report, the judge actually caught it and kept reminding the officer over and over that he was under oath. The judge stopped him from talking and dismissed the case immediately. Nothing happened to the officer for purjuring himself though.

    3. I’ve also witnessed a police brutality case (of a complete stranger) that I testified in, where the officers were completely lying. The sick part was, the victim of the police actually had not even committed even so much as a minor crime, yet he left in a stretcher.

    All three of these cases were local, and I’ve had several friends with similar stories.

  13. Greetings Counselor. My name is Chris Gebhardt. I have been a Police Officer, Sergeant, and Lieutenant for over 20 years. We don’t know each other but I respect your views on the justice system. We both have a job to do in the interest of the People. You will also see that I comment in support and against my fellow Officers on the Police Misconduct website.

    Your recent article “Liar, Liar” is an argument that can not be won. You have offered opinion without any supporting facts. I will admit that a few Officers do “testi-lie” but it is not the case in the majority of incidents. The “testi-lying” argument is one put forth by attorney’s who can not win their cases on the merits. When stuck in a corner, pull a “plan B.” My comment here is the same as yours, almost impossible to prove without catching an Officer in a lie.

    Now, to say that Officers are placing themselves above the rule of law is a little out of context. Based on the Brady and Giglio decisions, there are major ramifications for Officers found lying. I have worked in two agencies where Officers were terminated because they lied to superiors during an investigation. No questions asked. Lie and you die.

    I will leave you with this quote. “The truth greatly depends on one’s point of view.” I believe that sums up both our arguments/opinions. Good luck in the courtroom as I hope you prevail for the innocent. And thank you for writing your blog. I find it a great resource.

    ///Chris\
    Chris Gebhardt

    1. Thanks for visiting the website. But the truth does not depend on one’s point of view. That’s actually one of the fallacies police officers use to justify lying. “Well, as far as I was concerned, it was true,” is one of the first ways to spot a lie being presented by an officer.

      All that’s really necessary — aside from reading http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/ to see the number of documented stories of police officers who lie — is to sit in court and listen while an officer is being questioned. If you’re a juror, among other things you should look for, you should particularly notice how a police officer responds to questions from a prosecutor, versus questions from a defense attorney. If he’s simply telling the truth as he knows it, you shouldn’t see what I see all too often. Normally, the officers will almost immediately answer any question put by the prosecutor, in a straightforward manner. However, when a defense attorney asks the questions — and it doesn’t really matter how the questions are worded (you can see all this for yourself; I’m not misleading anyone) — the officer will not be as quick to answer. Sometimes, they’ll even start to argue with the defense attorney. This doesn’t just happen when a defense attorney is asking a leading question — although some defense attorneys do try to trick officers, just as some prosecutors try to trick witnesses they think might hurt them — but it also happens during regular, ordinary questions. On more than one occasion, I’ve actually had to say to an officer, “I’m not trying to trick you, officer. I’m just asking where you went for your training.” Or something to that effect.

      Officer do lie. Sometimes they lie just because they don’t actually remember the case and, in their minds, “it must have been this way, because I know he’s guilty.” Other times, they lie because they have a bad case. The problem is as I wrote in my article above: You don’t get to lie to make sure “the bad guy” goes to jail. You can believe whatever you want, but the legal system is built the way it is based on centuries of experience. This will sometimes mean criminals go free. But it also means fewer innocent people will live their lives in jail or worse — because too many innocent people have already been put to death in America.

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