Law enforcement officers are sworn to defend the public and uphold the safety of civilians. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and many people find themselves a victim of police misconduct.
Out of the countless victims of false convictions, the case of Sandra “Sandy” Hemme is one of the most notable.
In 1980, Sandra Hemme was excessively coerced into admitting the murder of Patricia Jeschke, someone she didn’t know, while she was under in-patient psychiatric treatment. She was convicted and has spent over four decades imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit.
In a closer examination of Hemme’s case, the evidence suggests that a corrupt police officer was responsible for the death of Jeschke. The police department possibly covered up the crime and pointed the finger at Hemme because she was in a vulnerable position.
Unfortunately, examples of police misconduct like this aren’t rare in our society. Whether to push propaganda, quickly close a case, or avoid prosecution, powerful and corrupt people too often misuse their authority to manipulate the truth and convict innocent people.
However, there are measures you can take if you or someone you know is in such a situation. If you want to learn how to protect yourself from false convictions, keep reading.
Reach out to The Pagan Law Firm today to speak with a seasoned police misconduct lawyer from a top-rated law firm in New York.
What Is Police Misconduct?
Police misconduct is an umbrella term that describes various unethical or malicious actions of law enforcement officers or police departments. Police brutality, excessive force, corruption, and racial profiling are all examples of police misconduct.
Police misconduct has become an increasingly prevalent issue in our society, as officers have been known to take advantage of their power to manipulate and coerce false confessions or plant evidence. Out of all types of police misconduct, brutality is at its highest.
According to a database published by Mapping Police Violence, California documented the highest report of police brutality casualties from 2020 to 2023, with around 500 victims dying all or in part due to police misconduct. At the same time, the state also holds the highest all-time number from 2013 to 2023, with 1,687 recorded deaths.
How Does Police Misconduct Lead to Wrongful Convictions?
There are several ways a police officer can manipulate the criminal justice system and put an innocent individual in jail.
In a published paper entitled “Police Misconduct as a Cause of Wrongful Convictions” by Russell Covey, the author shared several factors that lead to wrongful convictions. These are:
- Eyewitness misidentification: False arrest sometimes happens when an eyewitness misidentifies an individual as the suspect or provides vague descriptions of the criminal. This is often a result of leading questions and suggestive photo lineups during police interviews.
- Faulty forensic evidence: Faulty forensic evidence can be a result of faulty tests or negligence from police officers. Reports of tainted and mishandled evidence are becoming increasingly prevalent, as this information is often used to convict people of crimes they didn’t commit.
- Jailhouse informants: Jailhouse informants are criminals given a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against someone else. This often leads to false statements being used as evidence and innocent people being wrongly convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.
- False confessions: Similar to Hemme’s case, wherein the officer forced her to confess to something she didn’t do, false confessions are often the result of intense police interrogations and manipulation tactics. Officers can use confusion tactics or promises and threats to get a person to admit to the crime.
In most cases, police officers threaten victims to confess to the crime in exchange for shorter jail time and lesser penalties. For most victims, challenging the authority is very difficult, as the law typically sees the testimonies of police officers as reliable and accurate.
Examples of Police Misconduct That Lead to Wrongful Convictions
As mentioned, there are many ways a police officer can illegally convict an innocent person for a crime they didn’t commit. Here are some of the most notorious examples of police misconduct that resulted in wrongful convictions.
False Testimony From the Police Officer
As stated, the court rarely questions the reports of police officers and police reports are seen as a trustworthy and factual source of information. Because of this, disproving the falsified facts outlined in police reports poses a significant challenge for improperly convicted individuals.
In most criminal proceedings, the judge won’t ask why they should listen to you. Instead, they will ask why they shouldn’t trust the police report. The burden of proving the discrepancies in the police officer’s claims lies on the accused.
For example, if your name was somehow involved in a sexual assault case, and the police officer claimed that you were at the crime scene, then it is your responsibility to prove otherwise. Proving your innocence in such a situation can be difficult without substantial and tangible evidence.
Witness tampering is defined as influencing or attempting to influence a witness in any manner, including destroying physical evidence or harassing a witness to change or deny their testimony.
Witness tampering is a common tactic police officers use to manipulate evidence and convict people to cover for their crimes or somebody else’s. The accused may be threatened, bribed, or even misled about the nature of their testimony.
In some states, tampering with a witness is an offense punishable by law. However, many cases of witness tampering go unnoticed due to a lack of legal representation or resources available to the accused. Moreover, shreds of evidence to prove witness tampering are often hard to collect.
Fabrication of Evidence
Fabrication of evidence is an act wherein a police officer artificially manufactures or alters physical evidence to fit their narrative. This includes planting fingerprints, collecting fraudulent testimonies, and other forms of falsifying evidence.
Fabrication of evidence can be challenging to spot as the police officers involved in the case usually have access to significant resources that can be used to fabricate evidence.
Moreover, the police force itself is generally reluctant to investigate such cases due to the wide-reaching implications it could have for them.
One of the most famous cases involving evidence fabrication is People v. Spencer. John Spencer, Charles Shepherd, and Richard Wolf were accused of killing two civilians in December 1986. The suspects were convicted of the crime because of “strong” evidence against them.
In 1996, the case was re-investigated due to suspicion of evidence falsification. As it turns out, the police officer in charge of Spencer’s case illegally extracted Spencer’s fingerprints on a countertop and included them as evidence against him.
Improperly Handling Evidence
Improperly handling evidence is when a police officer fails to follow the proper collection and preservation protocols. This includes mishandling documents, failing to keep records of physical evidence, or destroying critical pieces of information.
Some evidence, such as DNA or blood, is sensitive to atmospheric changes and tampering and should be stored in a controlled environment. By failing to follow the proper protocols, the police officer may inadvertently damage or alter evidence that could affect the case outcome.
One well-known case regarding improper evidence handling is the O.J. Simpson trial. In 1994, O.J. Simpson was accused of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson (his ex-wife) and Ronald Goldman (her friend). The case exposed the flaws in the LAPD’s evidence collection, preservation, and chain of custody procedures.
One major failure was in not preserving the blood collected from the crime scene and their lack of following standard protocols. Simpson’s lawyers later used this mishandling of evidence to win the case.
Violent interrogations involve police officers using physical or psychological violence to extract information from suspects.
This includes using threats, excessive force, intimidation tactics, coercive questioning, and even torture. These illegal practices can lead to false convictions, as police officers may coerce suspects into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit.
There are some cases wherein individuals may even confess to a crime they didn’t commit just to end the torture and violence. In 2017, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) addressed the growing reports regarding violent interrogations globally.
In an example they provided, a detained individual was deprived of drinkable water for seven days, leading to his death because of dehydration. In the statement, the OHCR pleaded to “narrow the gap between legal principle and practical implementation.”
As mentioned in several sections above, coerced confession can result from various forms of police misconduct. Coerced confessions are when a suspect is pressed into confessing to a crime they did not commit due to pressure from the police officers.
This could come from physical violence, threats, psychological torture, etc. Law enforcement officers sometimes use specially crafted psychological techniques to manipulate suspects into admitting to a crime.
Violating Constitutional Rights
When a person is arrested, they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney present during interrogation, and the right to a fair trial. Additionally, the officer must remind the individual that anything they say can and will be used against them.
Unfortunately, it’s common malpractice for most officers to ignore these rights or even threaten the individual for exercising them. Violating constitutional rights can lead them to a false conviction, as the evidence presented in court may be obtained illegally.
At the same time, this can be a powerful tool for defense attorneys as any “evidence” obtained without reading the defendant’s Miranda Rights is inadmissible in federal courts.
If you believe a police officer has handled your case in any of the above-mentioned scenarios, it is best to speak with an experienced police misconduct lawyer immediately. Contact The Pagan Law Firm today.
How to Discredit Police Officers in Court
Discrediting false claims of a police officer is highly challenging, but it’s not impossible. With the right legal representative, defense strategy, and a piece of compelling evidence, you can win a case against police misconduct.
Spot Inconsistencies in Their Claims
One of the best ways to disprove an office’s accusation is to detect and call out inconsistencies in their claims. This can include details in their story or any contradictory evidence they provide.
For example, if an officer claims that you reached for the officer’s taser, but later claims that they handcuffed you after busting through your doors, it’s an inconsistency in their story. You and your lawyer must stay alert to catch these discrepancies and call them out right away.
With the right approach, your case could be dismissed altogether if it’s proven that the police officer acted out of line.
Ask Detailed Questions About the Case
In relation to our first point, asking detailed or overly specific questions about the case can also help discredit the officer’s claim. The more they answer these questions, the higher chance of inconsistencies appearing in their story.
With this approach, your attorney must be well-versed in legal procedure and police rights to ask difficult questions that may expose any lies or discrepancies in the officer’s story. Ultimately, discrediting a false police claim with this approach can be pretty effective, but it will require a deep understanding of the legal system.
Hire an Expert Witness
Corrupt police officers can get away with coercing eyewitnesses because they’re easily threatened and intimidated. To counter this, you can hire an expert witness to testify against the officer’s claims. Expert witnesses are knowledgeable and authoritative individuals that can provide a unique perspective on the case.
Furthermore, expert witnesses have vast experience testifying in court and facing cross-examination. It’s not easy to intimidate or coerce them with baseless threats. An expert witness can also provide an unbiased opinion on the case and challenge any false claims made by the police officers.
Provide Feasible Evidence
Nothing can beat a piece of tangible and substantial evidence in court. This can include audio recordings, video footage, event photographs, or any other solid evidence backing your claims.
If you have hard evidence to back up your story and challenge the officer’s lies, it will be difficult for the prosecution to discredit your case and claim a false conviction.
However, collecting solid evidence could be a hurdle, especially if you’re unsure what to look for and where to look for it. It’s best to hire a private investigator or attorney well-versed in evidence collection and legal procedures.
Exploring Witness Bias
Witness bias is an unavoidable factor in cases of police misconduct. It’s easy for eyewitnesses or jurors to be influenced by the officer’s position, badge, and reputation. This can lead to false convictions that could have been avoided with the right approach.
To counter this issue, your lawyer must carefully examine any biases present in the court case and dispute any claims the police officer makes. If the police officer has a history of misconduct or corruption, it might be leverage for you to make people suspicious of their claims.
Your lawyer must also be able to effectively communicate any bias present in the case and persuade the jury to side with your legal defense strategy.
What to Do If You Have Been Wrongly Convicted Due to Police Misconduct
Overturning a conviction caused by police misconduct can be difficult, but you’re not powerless. If you or someone close to you is dealing with this situation, here’s what you can do.
Get a Lawyer ASAP
Hiring an experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyer should be at the top of your to-do list. Make sure to carefully research and select an attorney that has experience dealing with cases of police misconduct and false convictions.
The lawyer should be well-versed in legal procedures, evidence collection, and courtroom cross-examination. They should also have a good reputation in the court system for their ability to challenge false claims by New York City police officers.
Challenge the Arrest
During the false arrest, refrain from saying anything without a lawyer present. Once you’ve hired an experienced lawyer to represent your case, they can challenge the arrest in court. Proving police misconduct during the arrest is not easy, but your lawyer should have the knowledge and resources to do it properly.
An illegal arrest is a clear violation of the Civil Rights Act. Your lawyer can use this to challenge the conviction and potentially get the case thrown out of court.
Post Bail If Possible
If you’re facing a false conviction, try to post bail immediately, if possible. Depending on the severity of the charges, you may be able to get out on bail and fight for your rights from the outside rather than in jail. This can also help protect your assets and reputation pending a court decision.
If you can’t afford the bail amount, you can hire a bail bondsman to help secure your release. In this case, you might need to pay about 10% of your bail while the bondsman shoulders the rest of the amount.
It’s worth repeating that having feasible and solid evidence trumps any false claims made by the police officer. Your legal counsel must diligently collect and examine evidence relevant to your case.
This could include witness testimonies, photos, videos, audio recordings, text messages, or anything else supporting your story and challenging the authorities’ version of events.
The police officer might try to manipulate or threaten witnesses to lie or deny what they saw, so you must be prepared to counter these tactics. You should also consider hiring an expert witness if it applies to your case.
File a Claim Against the Officer or the Department
Once everything is settled, your party should be ready to file criminal charges and/or a civil lawsuit against the corrupt officer or the police department. Depending on the nature of the malicious prosecution, your party can take the case to federal court.
In a case of police misconduct, you may be entitled to financial compensation for any damages incurred during the arrest and conviction process. This includes loss of income, destruction of property, and emotional distress due to false imprisonment.
Contact The Pagan Law Firm Today
Police officers are sworn to protect our rights and serve the public. Unfortunately, power can corrupt anyone. Police misconduct threatens the public’s safety and puts everyone at risk of receiving a false conviction. A conviction could last for many months until the judge dismissed the case.
At The Pagan Law Firm, we take each case seriously and are committed to representing victims of false arrests and convictions. Reporting police misconduct is a daunting task, but our team will be with you each step of the way. We have years of experience fighting for our client’s rights and will do whatever it takes to get the justice they deserve.
Call us now at 212-967-8202 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with our legal team today!