We all have the right to a fair trial, but what if the officer accusing you of a crime has a history of lying?
William Costopoulos, a top defense lawyer who has covered several high profile cases, says while a majority of police officers are honorable, there are some who are not.
“There are people in our prison system and there are people on death row that did not commit the crime they have been charged with, and there are police officers in the system that brought about that result. It has happened in Dauphin County and in Franklin County and in other counties,” Costopoulos said.
In 1992, Costopoulos successfully appealed the case of Jay Smith, a high school principal who had been convicted and sentenced to death on three counts of murder.
“Jay Smith was set free by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because of prosecutorial misconduct and because of less than truthful testimony coming from police officers. It was a landmark case,” he said.
Federal law requires prosecutors to disclose information on police misconduct, but there is debate as to whether the law requires district attorneys to keep a list of those officer’s names.
“As far as mandating that a list be kept, there is no such mandate and most prosecutor’s offices don’t do it,” Costopoulos said.
abc27 filed right to know requests with district attorney offices in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry and York counties, requesting a Brady or Giglio list or any other list that contains the names of police officers or state troopers. Nine of the requests were denied because the records did not exist. The Dauphin County District Attorney’s office response said, “at present, no municipal police officer or state trooper is on the ‘Do Not Use’ list.”
“There is no requirement that there be a list. There is a requirement under the rule of Brady and Giglio that if there is information in the possession of law enforcement that only law enforcement has in a criminal case that it be disclosed to the defense,” Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said.
In order for that to happen, police chiefs have to share the information with the district attorney’s office.
“The issue becomes what about things that are in a personnel file, because personnel files aren’t available to the general public. Could there be something that may be favorable to the defendant that might be subject to disclosure? We had a concern about that because you don’t want this found later after someone is convicted and may be serving a sentence,” Chardo said.
Chardo is also co-chair of the Best Practices Committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association, which has already been working on a best practices policy for police chiefs — in essence, a checklist of things police chiefs should be sharing with district attorneys.
“We are doing our best to meet our obligations. Whether or not we get any information that has to be disclosed remains to be seen,” Chardo said.
While federal law mandates this information has to be shared with prosecutors and defense attorneys, the law does not require it be shared with the public.
“Rarely are their consequences for the police officer that was less than truthful or for the prosecutor that engaged in misconduct. There is a movement towards repercussions for them, but generally, it results in a new trial or setting the defendant free,” Costopoulos said. “Society prevails when there is fair trial, and that’s what all of this is about.”