Sit down, and let me tell you about two police officers cruelly accused of perjury.
Perjury — lying under oath, breaking one's oath to God or affirmation, bearing false testimony against one's neighbor — is a terrible thing. Really, it's in the Bible and everything. Look it up. So it's a hard, hard thing to be accused of lying.
No doubt that's what inspired the warm-hearted sympathy of Washington County, Minnesota District Judge Gregory Galler towards our first officer, who, thanks to protective local reporting, must remain nameless. See, defense attorney David McCormick was cross-examining the officer — you know, trying to get a criminal off on some technicality, or trying to mislead the jury — when McCormick did the unthinkable: he suggested through his cross-examination that maybe the officer was not being truthful. Who the hell does he think he is? Mister, that officer is the thin blue line between you and utter anarchy that would make Mad Max look like a direct-to-video Strawberry Shortcake movie. When Wigmore said that cross-examination was the greatest legal engine ever invented for discovery of truth, he certainly didn't mean to suggest that upstart lawyers ought to question the veracity of police officers. The idea!
Righteously offended, Judge Gregory Galler demanded an apology:
Galler ordered McCormick to write an apology to the officer for "impugning the officer's integrity," according to court documents.
It would seem that Judge Galler's order might have emerged from a heart of pure righteousness, rather than from sober reflection:
Reached in his Stillwater chambers, Galler confirmed that he "might have" ordered the apology and asked, "How has that become a story?" When told the demand seemed unusual, Galler said, "Not really." He declined to comment further.
Yes, Galler ruled from his gut. He ruled from the place where (some) judges know that the criminal justice system is about processing people, not about testing the adequacy of the government's evidence under a set of rules, and certainly not about some Quixotic search for truth. So naturally he reacted with anger. How dare Mr. McCormick question that nice officer's veracity? That officer is just playing his part. It's unfair and uncouth to subject his testimony to the harsh and unforgiving light of scrutiny.
Fortunately most folks understand this. That's why Montgomery County Police Officer Dina Hoffman, our second officer of the day, will remain part of the thin blue line. Dina Hoffman just got acquitted of perjury by an obliging jury. See, Officer Hoffman wrote in her report, and testified on the stand, that accused drunk driver George Zaliev was passed out in the front seat of a running car. A video tape — a crude, thoughtless thing, that can't grasp the role that police play in protecting us from peril, and can't understand how hard it is to be a cop — revealed that Zaliev was, if you want to get "factual," passed out in the back seat of a car that was not running.
It's an easy mistake to make if you're spending all day administering justice.
Now, I don't know. Maybe the Montgomery County jury did the right thing for the wrong reasons. Maybe — instead of cutting Officer Hoffman a break because she's part of the thin blue line — that jury actually listened to her defense lawyer's legal defense and found that there was reasonable doubt as to whether she was just forgetful after many traffic stops.
But I think it's more likely that the jury saw their proper role, the role of all free people in a free society: to recognize the privilege of police officers to say whatever they like without crass questioning of their veracity.
[Note: there is no coordination or design, so far as I know, behind a recent spate of police misconduct stories here. But the topic is a natural fit for any blog concerned with individual liberty and how social norms lead us to scorn or abandon it.]
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