Troubling News About Police Car Stops
Imagine for a minute you are driving home on the Long Island Expressway, obeying the speed limit, maintaining your lane and not talking on your cell phone, and yet you see the lights and hear sirens as you are being pulled over by a police officer. Why are you being pulled over? What did you do wrong? As it turns out here on Long Island if you were pulled over by one particular shady police officer a few years back, you may have done absolutely nothing wrong. You may have been the victim of an overzealous police officer trying to make more arrests or screen people unlawfully for driving while intoxicated offenses. And now, after being “re-trained” and set back out onto our streets, questions are arising as to whether the officer is back up to his previous shenanigans. In a recent decision by a Nassau County District Court Judge, the contents of an Internal Affairs Investigation into this officer’s conduct is now being turned over to defense lawyers on pending cases in which he is the arresting officer. This information clearly bears directly on the credibility of his testimony and his reliability as a witness.
Attorneys sometimes are told by their clients that they did nothing wrong to get pulled over by the police. But since most cases in the criminal justice system end in negotiated dispositions, the legitimacy of the police officer’s conduct is often not seriously challenged. Some clients are even put in the difficult position of pleading to a crime they may never have committed or challenging the credibility of the police officer in open court and hoping that the judge and/or jury will disbelieve the officer. But this recent court decision may set a precedent for defense attorneys to more easily access Internal Affairs files and reports and determine whether an officer has even been reprimanded by the Police Department for his work. In fact, while the court decision to turn over the investigation of the shady cop was being decided, our firm was filing a motion in County Court on a case involving a separate officer being investigated for perjury, demanding that information concerning the investigation be disclosed to us.
Nassau County Police Officers as a whole are a tremendous group of men and women who protect and serve the people of Long Island every day in what is often a thankless job. But when even one officer compromises his integrity by falsifying the reasons for pulling people over, exaggerating the events in his reports, and padding overtime numbers to increase his pay, he undermines our confidence in our system of criminal justice. As lawyers dedicated to protecting the rights of Long Islanders, we are pleased by the new District Court decision and will, as always, aggressively challenge situations involving improper police conduct.