Convictions Overturned Due to "Bad Cops."

Occasionally as we debate the death penalty, or what the conditions in prison are or should be, reference is made to innocent (or, at least, “not guilty”) people who are convicted. I’ve had at least one person, whose name I don’t remember, scoff at the idea that this happens much – certainly not enough to be concerned about.

We are in the midst of (another) big police scandal in Los Angeles. Evidence is coming out that dirty cops at the Rampart Division framed suspects, planting evidence and giving false testimony. Three prisoners have been ordered released so far, and the District Attorney’s office says that there are another 40 cases that are under “intense scutiny” and will likely lead to more convictions being overturned.

Today’s article in the L.A. Times ends with this paragraph:

Sheesh, you don’t suppose they really DID frame O.J., do you? (I don’t, really, but it’s an intriguing question in light of all this.)

At any rate, my point is that, apparently, convictions of people who are not guilty are more common than you think. For those who advocate eliminating a lot of the procedural protections surrounding the death penalty, or who think that prisons are “coddling criminals,” I hope this at least makes you stop and think.


They didn’t frame OJ because they couldn’t make any money by doing so. Stealing from a drug dealer is one thing - its illegal but there is a profit motive, its not just stupid.

You are making a logical error. “fram(img) suspects, planting evidence and giving false testimony” does not necessarily equal “convictions of people who are not guilty.” IMHO, in almost all cases, the cops frame the right guy. This is what I believe happened with OJ. The LAPD framed the right guy.

That said, your overall point is completely correct if for no other reason that “almost all cases” is not nearly good enough. The justice system needs more and stronger safeguards for defendants, not fewer and weaker.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Except that you’ve got more than a dozen cops from just one division potentially involved, and not all of the questionable convictions involve drug charges. There’s something more than just a profit motive going on here, I think.

Other cases involving cop corruption occasionally produce evidence to show that the cops really thought they were doing a good thing – that they were putting away a guilty person (if not for the crime charged, then for some other crime). Sort of an “end justifies the means” philosophy.


Manhattan, you posted while I was responding to Cooper.

I have a great deal of respect for both your intelligence and your opinions in general, but your comments in your first paragraph are a bit alarming. It’s your opinion that the cops almost always “frame the right guy”?? Yikes! On what do you base this opinion? And tell it to Sam Shephard. I think if I were a criminal defense attorney I wouldn’t want you on my juries.

Yes I read your final paragraph, and I’m really glad it was there. (I know, like you were worried about my opinion. :wink: ) But the mindset you reflect in your first paragraph is often connected with opinions other than as expressed in your second (“the cops say he’s guilty so he must be guilty; why bother with a trial?”), and so I really challenge you as to what evidence you have to support your opinion that the cops usually frame the right guy.


While convicting someone on false evidence is bad enough, the real damage is to the credibility of our justice system.

While these yahoos make up less than 1% of the police force, their actions cause the public to wonder if they might find themselves in the same situation.

Thankfully we do not tolerate corruption in our police. As soon as evidence of it is apparent, the public begins to howl for blood. And rightfully so.

It just serves to remind us, as the watched, to keep a vigelant eye on the watchers.

Check out the current Atlantic Monthly; it has a major piece on the death penalty. It brings up the number of people on Death Row who’ve been found innocent of the murders that put them there (and the flukey ways many of them were rescued rom execution); the frequency of police and prosecutorial abuse with respect to evidence; the lack of any sanctions for prosecutors who deliberately used false evidence, withheld evidence from defense lawyers, etc.; the lack of any sort of reasonable compensation for lawyers in death penalty cases, resulting in people getting convicted of murder and getting the death penalty despite their lawyer having slept through much of their trial (right to counsel is guaranteed by the Constitution; right to conscious counsel isn’t, the courts have decided), and plenty more.

It’s enough to make your blood boil, if you believe in any sort of basic fairness - and putting a person in a position where the state may take his life away calls for fairness to an extreme; if the state is wrong, there’s no way to undo or compensate for the wrong it’s - we’ve - done.

The system we have for administering the death penalty gives ‘slipshod’ a bad name. It’s an abomination. I don’t believe the death penalty is inherently immoral, but there’s absolutely no defense for the system we have here. It doesn’t make a fellow proud to be an American. :frowning:

Melin: Please don’t misunderstand where I’m at on this. The simple fact that the cops frame the right guy does not mean (to me) the guy ought to be convicted (or that the police should escape punishment). You actually would find me a dream juror because I, like the OJ jurors, would tend to throw out the good evidence as tainted with the bad.

Evidence that the cops usually frame the right guy? Well, you won’t be terribly surprised to learn that there aren’t a lot of studies on this sort of thing, because proving that cops testi-lie is rare. (but I’ll look)

But such a scandal has happened before. In Philly (IIRC the early 90’s) and here in NY a few years back (the Dirty 30 scandal). At the time of the Dirty 30, several friends worked at the Manhattan D.A.’s office. (You gotta be really bad to get your own D.A’s office. :wink: ). I expressed my concern that the streets were about to be flooded with a) guilty people who ought to be in jail and/or b) innocent people who were really pissed off at being framed by the cops.

As it happened, the cases tended to fall into one of three categories. Most defendants pled. More specifically, they allocuted when they pled. They made a voluntary admission that they did the crime. In other cases, a judge found that despite the tainted police involvement, there was no reversible error, since enough independent evidence was introduced to secure the conviction. Third, the cops got a guy who was innocent of that particular crime (or at least there was insufficient non-tainted evidence to secure a conviction), in which case the conviction was overturned and the defendant was released. Guess how long until a re-arrest for a similar crime?

I believe that the same dynamic held in Philly.

I’m looking for a cite for the all of the above but it’s gonna take a while because, you may be amused to know, “Dirty 30” is:

a reference to a scandal-plagued police precinct in NYC
a brand of guitar amplifier
a reference to the 30 largest Political Action Committees in Texas
the 30 most influential divorce lawyers in the U.S.
a rap group
an aeronautical maneuver somehow distinguished from a clean 30
slang for the Great Depression, in particular the dust-bowl
:: sigh :: sometimes I hate search engines.
Aside from any evidence that I can or can’t find, it also makes intuitive sense that in most cases the police would frame the right guy. It’s easier, and IMHO many of these cases (police theft excluded, of course) the cops do it simply to make the wheels spin a little faster.

In cases where the police are stealing, it’s probably even more common that the cops are doing it to an illegal enterprise. It’s simply too easy for a legit business to prove that the theft occurred and who did it.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

A percentage of all cops are crooked? Stop the presses!

manhattan wrote:


Sloppy handling of evidence ain’t framing. I never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

The Chicago Tribune is in the middle of a series on the failure of the death penalty in Illinois. You should be able to find it on their website. They have consistently pointed out how crooked cops have framed the wrong person for murder cases, and how prosecutors have gone along with it.

In fact, if I recall correctly, more people in Illinois have been let out of death row (and prison altogether), because it turned out they were innocent, than have been actually executed in Illinois since the death penalty was brought back.

One guy, who was innocent of the crime he was convicted of, would have been executed if his IQ had been higher. It was only his low IQ that got an appeals court to temporarily stay his execution because they weren’t sure he could understand what was happening. It was later determined that he was innocent altogether (determined because, IIRC, a professor and some students looked into the case further, not because our justice system did it). If he’d scored a bit higher on an IQ test, he’d be dead – executed for a crime he hadn’t committed.

There are at least a couple of websites that deal with this subject. Truth in Justice is actually an organization that works to free prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted.

Seems this happens more than it should.

Police officers frighten me.

The other week, some students were protesting at Concordia University. Police arrested several and broke one girl’s knee with a baton. The students were not behaving violently. To make matters worse, I’ve heard direct evidence that the charges were trumped up. (A friend of mine was tape-recording an interview at the time, and the arrested parties were clearly not using a megaphone as charged.)

And they’re not getting in trouble. sigh

It’s really sad when I’m minding my own business and behaving peacefully, and I see a police officer, and I’m frightened rather than reassured.

I had an eye-opening experience when I was younger. I was riding my bike and saw a cop pull over a young man in a car. Mystified, I stopped and asked the guy what he was pulled over for. He hadn’t a clue. I gave him my phone number and said if he needed a witness to call me.

Well, he did. Cop gave him a ticket for failing to yield at an intersection. I went to Court. I listened to this standard-issue cop aver the most breath-taking, egregiously excessive piece of perjury I’ve ever imagined. I was floored. He didn’t merely shade his testimony, he made it up out of whole cloth. No relation to reality at all. And for no more reason than to secure a minor moving violation!!

The paper reports that three defendants have been set free as a result of the “dirty cop” investigation, three more were due to be set free as the paper went to press, and the district attorney’s office estimates there may be 20-40 others who were wrongly convicted based on these cops (defense attorneys place this number as high as 200 or more). Several lawsuits have been filed, including one by the family of a man who was killed by these cops, and estimates are that this could cost the City $100 million or more in litigation and settlements before it’s all over.