When Officers Contradict Each Other

You've just testified under oath contrary to another officer's testimony. It may just help your credibility. Read on.


Here's the facts

The defendant drove drunk and caused a crash resulting in one fatality and two seriously injured persons. You and Officer Ames arrive on the scene in separate patrol cars. The defendant flees in his car.

You remain at the scene. Officer Ames pursues the fleeing car and, without losing sight of it, stops it and arrests the defendant. The defendant admits to driving the car during the crash and damage to his car matches the wreck.

In her report, Officer Ames describes the car that fled as a green, Ford Escort. You describe it in your report as a blue, Chevy Nova.

The defendant is on trial for manslaughter and two first degree assaults. Officer Ames has just finished testifying. She described the fleeing car consistent with her report. Under direct examination by the prosecutor, you testify consistent with your report. You are now on cross examination by the defense.

Here's your cross examination

Q: Officer, you testified on direct examination that my client allegedly left the scene in a blue, Chevy Nova, correct?
A: Yes ma'am.
Q: Are you aware that Officer Ames testified under oath before this same jury that my client allegedly drove away in a green, Ford Escort?
A: No ma'am. [You would not know this because you do NOT discuss the testimony of other witnesses during the trial.]
Q: Okay. It will be the jury's recollection that governs. But assume for a moment the Sergeant did testify to that fact.
A: Yes ma'am.
Q: Which of you has provided false testimony about the car?

There are limited possible answers:

  • Both.
  • I don't know.
  • I can only testify to what I saw.
  • Officer Ames.
  • I have.
  • Neither.

It's unlikely you will testify that both you and Officer Ames testified falsely. At least, I've never gotten that answer during this scenario in courtroom testimony training nor heard it in court.

If you testify, "I don't know," or "I can only testify to what I saw," expect the following cross examination:

Q: You will agree the car couldn't be both a Ford and a Chevy?
A: Yes.
Q: It couldn't be both an Escort and a Nova?
A: Yes.
Q: It couldn't be both green and blue?
A: Yes.
Q: So, assuming even one of you provided true, accurate information about the car, one of you has to have provided false information, correct?

At this juncture, most officers concede the point. To which the defense attorney again asks,

Q: So, which one of you has testified falsely to this jury?

If you say something like, "Well, I'm testifying to what I saw so I'd have to say Officer Ames," expect the defense attorney to respond,

Q: That's right, Officer, because if someone got something wrong you're not going to say it's you, correct?”

If you say it was probably you, since Officer Ames followed the car and had it in sight longer, expect the next question,

Q: Is there any other false testimony you've given today under penalty of perjury that the jury wouldn't know about unless I uncovered it?

If you say you're not sure, expect:

Q: Is there any other testimony you've given under oath that you're not sure about but didn't bother to qualify when the prosecutor was asking the questions?

Embrace honest mistakes

The truthful answer to the above cross examination is, "Neither." Neither you nor Officer Ames testified falsely.

Clearly, one of you, possibly both of you, made a mistake, but to characterize that as testifying falsely suggests intentional dishonesty, which officers understandably resist. Then the defense attorney switches tactics and implies the officer would never be willing to admit it if she made a mistake.

Do NOT let the defense attorney mischaracterize what happened.

Q: Which of you has provided false testimony about the car?
A: Neither of us, ma'am.
Q: You will agree the car couldn't be both a Ford and a Chevy?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: It couldn't be both an Escort and a Nova?
A: That's right.
Q: It couldn't be both green and blue?
A: Yes.
Q: So, assuming even one of you provided true, accurate information about the car, one of you has to have provided false information, correct?
A: No, ma'am. Clearly one of us, maybe both of us made a mistake. But neither of us has testified "falsely."

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