Police Officer Truthfulness and the Brady Decision

Truthfulness and the 1963 Brady decision have become hot topics in law enforcement circles. Although years went by without much concern with the Brady decision, recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have enforced Brady to include evidence maintained in a police officer’s personnel files. Under Brady, evidence affecting the credibility of the police officer as a witness may be exculpatory evidence and should be given to the defense during discovery. Indeed, evidence that the officer has had in his personnel file a sustained finding of untruthfulness is clearly exculpatory to the defense. To remind the reader, in 1963 the Supreme Court ruled in Brady v. Maryland that the defense has the right to examine all evidence that may be of an exculpatory nature. This landmark case stands for the proposition that the prosecution will not only release evidence that the defendant might be guilty of a crime but also release all evidence that might show that the defendant is innocent as well. Today many police executives have recognized the importance of officer credibility and have established a “No Lies” proclamation. As simple as No Lies sounds, it is far more complex and difficult to manage. Lies are not a fixed target; rather, deception exists on a continuum, from what is commonly called social lies or little white lies to egregious misconduct that warrants dismissal or prosecution. The true challenge is in dealing with deceptive conduct that lies somewhere in the middle of the continuum-not so far on one end of the continuum for termination and not far enough toward the other end of the continuum to be justifiable or excusable.