By Charles Kiker
The ninth of the ten commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)
In his “Grits for Breakfast” blog, Scott Henson has a recent post (March 16) on “testilying” raised to new heights of infamy: “Police prevarication in Austin overlooked with wink and a nod.” It regards an incident from a couple of years ago in which an Austin police officer manufactured out of whole cloth a probable cause affidavit for unlawful trespassing. The officer described in detail the area in which the defendant was charged with trespassing. It was described as a heavily wooded area with numerous signs against trespassing. In fact, the area described was a multi-unit rental area devoid of “no trespassing” signs with only one tree in view. The defense attorney took pictures of the area and the prosecutor, at the pre-trial conference, decided that it was in the best interests of justice to dismiss the case. Hurrah for the prosecutor.
But the police department declined to press any charges against the lying officer. It is possible that the officer made an honest, mistaken address mistake. If so, the Police Department should have acknowledged as much and apologized for the mistake.
I have long known that it is legally permissible for an interrogator to lie to a suspect while trying to get a confession. I say legally permissible. I do not say morally permissible. The ninth commandment, to my knowledge, makes no exceptions for police officers, interrogators, prosecutors, or judges. The practice is moral perjury even though it is legally permissible.
In general, I am opposed, on first amendment grounds, to these ten commandment monuments being posted on courthouse squares. But the ninth commandment should be prominently posted in the courtroom, in an area where those in the witness chair, the attorneys for both the state and the defense, and the judge cannot miss it.
I fear the whole thing is a case of prevarication creep, moving from permissible lying at interrogation to wink and nod overlooking of perjury and finally to legally sanctioned lying in order to make a case.
But let’s roll back the lying, and withdraw the practice of sanctioned lying by interrogators seeking a confession.
Enough is too much already!