The Boston Herald reports today that a Massachusetts State Trooper may have committed perjury while testifying at a drunk driving trial in the Quincy District Court. During cross-examination at a November 24th trial the trooper, Kathleen Carney denied that she was facing any potential disciplinary action. In fact, Trooper Carney was being investigated for allegations of brutality involving a 35 year old Quincy woman whom Carney had arrested in August of 2008. Boston Herald writer Jessica Van Sack reported that after a December 1, 2008 hearing Trooper Kathleen Carney was placed on restrictive duty pending a continuing investigation of the brutality charges.
The following day Carney appeared in the Quincy District Court again in connection with another drunk driving charge. The prosecution however refused to call her as a witness and the case was dismissed. At this time it appears that Norfolk County prosecutors will not call Carney to testify on any of their cases on which she is a potential witness.
Perjury in Massachusetts is a crime pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268 Section 1. In essence, anyone who lies in a judicial proceeding about a matter material to the issue in question is guilty of perjury. There is a potential 20 year prison sentence if you are convicted of this crime. The lie for the purposes of the perjury statute is material if it tends in a reasonable degree to affect some aspect or result of the inquiry. The lie or false testimony does not have to influence a pertinent determination. Rather, when viewed objectively the testimony must have a reasonable and natural tendency to do so. Massachusetts courts have held that falsehoods going to credibility of a witness may at times figure as material for purposes of the crime of perjury.
In cases where the prosecution relies exclusively on the testimony of a police officer there is nothing more devastating to the defense than a lying cop. Drunk driving cases are typically presented by placing one or two police officers on the stand. The officers will usually testify that some sort of erratic driving caught their eye causing them to effectuate a stop of the vehicle. When they approach the vehicle they smell alcohol and ask the suspect to perform some field sobriety tests. If the person fails in their opinion they are arrested and asked if they want to take a breathalyzer test. Many times this test is not taken by the suspect and the prosecution’s case rests solely on the officer’s observations. In those cases, the credibility of the officer is material to the success of the prosecution.
In many of my drunk driving cases my clients are simply not drunk or impaired by legal standards. The officers who make the arrests are not familiar with my client’s speech patterns, physically limitations or social habits. Thus, their objective observations even if truthful may be flawed. Simply put, they might be incorrect in their assessment of my client’s sobriety. On the other hand, if possible I will call people who were with my client at the time of the incident to offer testimony about his or her lack of impairment. Sometimes these witnesses share with the jury personal characteristics about the client that show why someone might incorrectly attribute intoxication to their inability to adequately perform field sobriety tests. When a case is handled fairly by the prosecution the jury can weigh the competing testimonies. Typically they are asked to decide whether to believe the police officer who probably has no dealings with the defendant or friends or family members who know whether or not the defendant was actually impaired. There is no place in justice for lying cops. In my opinion they are far more dangerous and criminal than the “drunk driver” who they have arrested. Kudos to the defense attorney who exposed Carney’s abuses and to the prosecutors who refuse to prosecute cases tainted by her arrests.