Almanac

Cover Story - January 16, 2013

Credibility under oath

How does a troubled past affect an officer's future credibility in court? In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland ruled that prosecutors must disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, including misconduct by a police officer who might be called as a witness in a case if that misconduct could discredit or impeach the officer's testimony.

As in other jurisdictions, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office keeps a "Brady list" of police officers charged or convicted of an offense, and discloses that information to the defense when the officer will testify while facing charges or serving probation. He said some crimes, such as misdemeanor drunked driving, allow the removal of the officer from the list after he completes probation.

Other crimes, such as a moral turpitude offense or one related to credibility, such as filing a false report, keeps the officer on the list in perpetuity. The Brady list is not public record; the information "is accessible only to our attorneys in handling their cases," Mr. Wagstaffe said.

A police officer charged with soliciting a prostitute may not make the list. Mr. Wagstaffe said that case law considers solicitation by the prostitute as an act of moral turpitude, but wasn't sure whether that held true for the john. "Doesn't seem like it should be different, but the law is a strange thing in so many distinctions it draws."

The district attorney, having never seen a case on that point, said the question would require some research.

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