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by Peter Moskos

December 2, 2014

Would a Grand Jury Really Indict a Ham Sandwich?

My man Gene O'Donnell (former police officer and prosecutor and current colleague of mine at John Jay College of Criminal Justice) on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. Well worth listening to. Unless, of course, you fully understand what a grand jury is and how it works... which you, like I, don't. Also, if you click through that link, there's a great chart from the NewsHour that summarizes the witness testimony. For what it's worth, based on my experience (and much academic research), I don't put much credence in eyewitness testimony.


Dave- IL said...

CNN is reporting that the NYPD cigarette strangler has not been indicted for killing Eric Garner. Could be a long week for you guys in NYC.

Let that be a lesson to all you cheapskate smokers out there! Think you can skip out on those cig taxes and cheat your neighborhood bodega owners? Think again, bitch! NYPD is coming and they're bringing their vascular neck restraints, their tats and their New York tough guy attitudes (usually over the top when the officer is a white dude from Long Island brought in to police da brothers).

RNew said...

When you say you don't put much credence in eyewitness testimony, does that include the officer's recollection of the events from his vantage point? This is a genuine question and not snark. :)

David Woycechowsky said...

@ Dave IL:

They are going to have to change that saying to roast beef sandwich.

Moskos said...

RNew: No it does not. I do generally trust the officer's recollection. Mostly because we know he (or she) was actually there. Also the officer can lose his job for perjury. "Witnesses" may not have been there, see what that want to see, and also just make shit up.

This isn't just a problem in police-related cases. It's a problem in all criminal identification. We know witness ID is terrible.

An officer involved in a shooting is more likely to have better recollection. because being in such a situation actually has physiological effects related to observation (and many other things).

bacchys said...

The officer can lose his job for perjury?

Please. When an event happens so rarely that "never" is more accurate than "infrequently," it's hardly a deterrent to bad behaviour.

In the Henry Davis case in Ferguson, several officers either admitted to perjury or committed it, and nary a single charge was filed. None appear to have been disciplined by that corrupt department. Testilying is a well-respected and protected phenomena in law enforcement. Judges tell cops they are allowed to lie, and they do.

Moskos said...

A lot of cops lose their jobs for lying on police reports (which is what i meant since it is, technically, perjury).

I don't have numbers, but I personally know a good handful. It's how the dept gets you when they can't prove you did anything criminal (which is very hard). Two or more from my academy class alone. Also google the cop who pushed the bike in Times Square a few years ago (Pagan?). That one that did get attention. He wasn't fired for assault. He was fired for perjury.