What happens if a cop lies in traffic court?

So let’s say I’m in traffic court. I presume for the purposes in this thread (from experience) that the cop’s word in of itself eliminates “reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime and you basically have to prove your innocence*.

The officers makes his case like “The defendant entered the light on red.” or something like that. I then play my dashboard cam which shows the light was green and not even close to turning red. Does the cop get sanctioned? Can I ask the judge to sanction the cop for either perjury or contempt? Do i file a complaint with their department.

I would think that because so many judges rely solely on the cops testimony to convict traffic offenders that when caught lying there should be more than just dismissing the charges but that may be more for a GD thread than here.

*Since this is GQ and not GD, I don’t know if it is a hijack to discuss if the cop’s eyewitness testimony with no circumstancial evidence really constitutes "proving beyond a reasonable doubt.

Convictions for perjury are rare. It’s not enough to show that the defendant gave evidence about a fact material to the proceedings; the prosecution has to prove (beyound reasonable doubt, naturally) that at the time he made the statement he knew it was false, They have to exclude the possibility that he was honestly mistaken, or that he misremembered, or that he misspoke. And that’s practically impossibie unless, e.g., they are able to show that he admitted to someone that he had perjured himself deliberately.

On the facts in your OP, there certainly isn’t even the makings of a successful prosecution for perjury, and I can’t see any judge holding the police officer in contempt. If this happens a lot in this particular officer’s prosecutions, I can see him getting into trouble at work - he’ll have a poor success rate in prosecutions, and a reputation as an officer who isn’t very observant or very reliable.

And I think that that forms the basis of my question. Police testimony in court seems to be considered more accurate(?). Certainly in a cop said/defendant said situation the cop is usually given the benefit of the doubt and convictions occur solely on his eyewitness testimony. Given this presumption, it seems to me that cops being wrong should be treated more harshly.

It’s hard to explain but in situations where a cop comes in and says you run a stop sign and the judge says “Good enough for me - guilty.” that somehow the cop should be held accountable when wrong. Or is it, “Oh well oopsie doopsie - case dismissed.”

What happens if a cop lies in traffic court?

Not much. I once had a case where I demonstrably showed evidence that the cop was lying–or, to be charitable, “mistaken”. Photo evidence of the road showing no white line present that I could have crossed and the cop claimed he didn’t have his emergency lights on when I was stopped late at night (which got chuckles from the courtroom).

The prosecutor didn’t even make a closing argument and the judge stated there was more than reasonable doubt for most of the charges, but I still got dinged for crossing the double line on the road because that was the one thing I couldn’t disprove.

The cop looked foolish, but I seriously doubt that he faced any sanction–business as usual, I take it.

I understand what you mean - but the problem with this turn-about stuff is that when you turn it around, the cop is the defendant and the prosecutor has to prove the perjury (he knew it was false when he said it) beyond a reasonable doubt - even though a lower standard of proof is often used in traffic court . Because perjury is always going to be a crime and running a red light usually isn’t.

Now, that doesn’t mean there can’t be more to it than dismissing the charges in that case - the judge could determine that the cop is an unreliable witness and dismiss any case that relies mostly on his testimony. And that could have job consequences. But the cop is no more going to jail for saying you entered the intersection on red when the camera shows it was green than umpires and referees are going to jail when instant replay shows they made the wrong call.

The problem with the OP is that he is clouding lying with being mistaken. As previously posted in order to claim perjury it has to be shown that one gave false testimony that one knew was false. Saying something that one thinks is truth is not lying, it’s being mistaken.

The scenario in the OP about showing dashcam video has to do with presenting a defense. You may be able to prove the witness was wrong and be found not guilty, but unless you have some evidence that he knew what he was saying was false how is that perjury?

It’s not.

pkbites here’s my problem. When I have seen cases in traffic court, the judge assumes everything the cop says is 100% true, without a doubt, absolutely accurate - at least to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
When the cop is shown to be - let’s be charitable and say mistaken - doesn’t that completely throw out the presumption that cops are reliable enough to convict solely on their eyewitness testimony? So cops get ALL the benefits of the doubt? If I can’t prove them wrong (and my understanding is I do not need to prove innocence, they need to prove guilt) then they are 100% reliable ONLY becoming unreliable when the defendant can prove them wrong? I don’t buy it. The only thing that logically makes sense is:
Cops are 100% reliable all the time and are lying when they are shown to be inaccurate
Cops are as reliable or unreliable as any other eyewitness including the defendant and as such there testimony alone should not outweigh the defendant’s.

Or are you going to contend that cops are accurate enough to convict only on eyewitness testimony and are only “mistaken” when proven to be wrong?

Yeah, you’re all over the place on what you’re exactly trying to say, and you’re not going to be convinced of anything I say so I’m going to bail on this one.
You sound like you got convicted of a ticket and are pissed about it, which is understandable regardless of whether you were actually guilty or not.

But your understanding of what actually constitutes perjury sounds like it’s coming from someone who got convicted of a ticket and is pissed about it.

Tell you what, take your argument to a defense attorney and see what he says. Between laughing fits he’ll probably explain the error of your thinking better than I can or care to here.

The judge is faced with a conflict of evidence between the policeman and the motorist. Conflicting evidence in court cases is extremely common, and not at all an indicator of dishonesty. In most cases of conflicting evidence both parties are being entirely honest.

The best the cop can do is to give honest evidence of what he observed. Yes, it may be objectively wrong. That does not make the cop’s evidence perjurious. He cannot guarantee his own infallibility and he should not be criminalised for that inability.

The judge doesn’t ask himself who (if anyone) is being dishonest. That doesn’t matter. The question is not whether a witness is dishonest, but whether his testimony is reliable. So who’s evidence is more reliable? On the one hand, the motorist has strong motivations, either financial or as a matter of self-esteem or both, to exonerate himself. On the other hand, the policeman is a trained and experienced observer of traffic with much less personal involvement in the outcome of the case. Therefore, all other things being equal, the judge will usually tend to back the policeman as the more reliable, more credible witness.

Does this amount to proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”? You might think not. But in petty criminal matters “beyond a reasonable doubt” tends to look a lot like 'on the balance of probabilities". The nation’s petty courts would grind to a halt otherwise.

Here us a relevant case, a YouTube video. A woman had her license suspended for having too high a blood alcohol level, but she was never given a breathalyzer test. The judge is trying and failing to get the prosecutor to commit to charging the traffic cop with perjury.

I won’t say a cop has never lied in court. As in every profession there are stupid people. I will say that in no jurisdiction I know does it make any sense to do so. I could not care less how the judge rules. I know I did my job and the overtime gets paid regardless of the verdict. Also I know if the judge has seen me be 100% truthful for years he will be inclined to believe my testimony. If I was caught lying once I would never have any credibility again. It’s just not worth it to win on something minor like a traffic ticket.

Having said that I will say that I have seen quite a few people that had a “gotcha” defense that they thought would win the day. They just can’t understand why they lost although everyone in the courtroom did. They will probably go to the grave thinking they lost because the cop lied.

Any chance you can share some of these stories? I’d be interested in a laugh.

There is a third possibility: As witnesses, cops are 98% reliable and civilians are only 80% reliable, hence a cop’s testimony carries more weight, except in the rare cases where it’s shown to be inaccurate.

Most judges will think that a police officer is not lying as there is no reason for them to do so. You have a financial motive for lying the cop doesnt.

But most Judges will accept that cops make* mistakes *just like anyone else does.

If you out and out state the cop is lying, that usually wont work. But all you need is some reasonable doubt.

  • When I have seen cases in traffic court, the judge assumes everything the cop says is 100% true, without a doubt, absolutely accurate - at least to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. *

The judge accepts the cops testimony as accurate. All of this 'absolutely accurate" stuff is just you huffing and puffing. Like has been said, given a choice between the violator and the cop, the judge is going to side with the cop. It doesn’t mean he thinks the cop is infallible.

“…doesn’t that completely throw out the presumption that cops are reliable enough to convict solely on their eyewitness testimony?”

Obviously not. Again, no one believes that cops are infallible, but if a cop says he saw you do it, then the judge is going to need some evidence to the contrary before he will disbelieve him. Saying “I didn’t do it” isn’t raising a reasonable doubt.

It’s not a perfect system and sometimes people get screwed. But it’s the best we can do at this time.

They do need to prove guilt.

The cop’s testimony is sufficient to do that proving.

If Snake sticks a gun in your face, drags you into an alley, and steals your wallet, I imagine you’d be outraged if you got to court, positively identified him as your robber, and had the judge find him not guilty, I suspect you’d be equally outraged. But not to worry – your testimony, standing alone, is legally sufficient to convict him.

And the cop’s testimony is legally sufficient to convict you.

I think of a cop’s testimony as being similar to that of an expert witness. Legally that’s probably not the case, but I think practically it is. A cop has been trained to be observant, is experienced in the situations they get into (because it’s what they do all the time as their job) and has other professional qualifications that make them eligible to be a cop. It’s like bringing in a forensics expert or psychologist to testify as a professional. They aren’t considered to be infallible but their professional opinion has weight. The average defendant or witness won’t have that same training, experience, or credentials.

What I wonder is what consideration is given if the defendant or witness is another law enforcement professional, retired or otherwise.

Unfortunately I was in a similar situation awhile back. I learned a great deal about “the system” from my mistakes and observing other cases in traffic courts.

The first thing I learned was that traffic courts are mainly a game for the most part and
uniformed enforcers are very good at being in court because they do it a lot.

Secondly get the word crime out of your vocabulary when referring to a driving infraction such as failure to signal. The people in uniform out to enforce driving infractions are only a witness to the infraction and must prove the infraction. And they will even if it means “making a mistake” in their wording.

IMO it is best to not pursue a perjury inquiry against a uniformed enforcer. It is not worth your time and in most cases will never fly unless there is a great deal of media attention and the stars are perfectly in alignment.

In the town I reside only 3% of traffic violators go to court and fight. The courts count on individuals just going along with it and paying up. We can even pay online now:D
The system is aggressively set up so people not familiar with being a customer of the courts are frightened into paying up.

Go to traffic court sometime and just watch. The Uniformed enforcers are groomed physically and mentally and most individuals going to traffic court are dressed like slobs and very ignorant when it comes to proceedings. The magistrates conclusions many times are determined by this alone.

Educate yourself and when you get pulled over for some infraction, be polite, shut up and just take the ticket. Makes it much easier to fight later because nothing you said will be used against you.

Uniformed enforcers take their jobs very seriously because they know if revenue is not raised the cuts will start taking place, so just remember it’s their job and no matter how furious it makes the people you just got to laugh and be thankful that you don’t have to do what they do to make a living.

I can agree with some of this. I’ll add last time I went to court, I was wearing a jacket and tie with a folder of my court papers, and some defendants asked me if I could pick up their case on the fly outside of the courtroom, because they thought I was a lawyer and they didn’t have one 20 minutes before their court time.

No, dumb ass. I’m here for court as a defendant, only I dress to the standard to which the judge won’t think I’m a jackass! Or, to the standard the judge expects in his court from all. Even my own lawyer thought I was a fellow lawyer (although, probably with cheaper get-up attire than his; and we only met before at court and I said I’m the defendant you’re looking for; but, I’m not buying or wearing a $1000 suit for this…).

I’m kinda amazed at the people who show up for court in cut-off jeans and hard rock band T-shirts, or whatnot, thinking that doesn’t make an impression on the court system.

Might somewhat explain why my most serious conviction was crossing the double line as mentioned above–which was like 25 years ago.

This gut actually showed up with respect to the court?

IIRC, the rule of thumb for perjury is usually that there are two independent pieces of evidence or testimony that prove the lie.

For example, when the prosecutor was raking Martha Stewart over the coals for her financial shenanigans, he tried to charge her with perjury - she (allegedly) told her secretary something different than her testimony. For a second piece of evidence, he wanted to use the secretary’s notes of the day. The defense successfully (IIRC) argued that the notes were essentially repeating the one piece of testimony, not a separate independent set. If the secretary misheard the statement, she would have written down what she misheard. (And of course, the prosecutor was in the habit of threatening the small fish with a lifetime of regret to elicit the correct testimony).

So a dashcam should override the policeman’s testimony, but it does not in itself prove perjury.

I agree with several posters above - the policeman has a lot less (generally, has nothing) at stake in the court than the defendant, so has much less incentive to lie - so he might be mistaken, but not deliberately lying. there is the problem that some percentage of any group are royal flaming dicks and will do sadistic things just to demonstrate their ability to make your life miserable - for their own delight - but in general, that is not a policeman… (unless he’s the sort who pulls up, jumps out of his car and empties a magazine or two into the guy wandering down the street. There’s 340 million people in America, any surprise one of those surfaces every so often?)