Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

Check Out This Cross Examination

Officer, have you ever attended FLETC?

Tell the jury what FLETC is.

So you're familiar with Sally's Cop Shop located right at FLETC's entrance?

It's a retail store that caters to local and federal law enforcement, correct?

You wouldn't shop at a business you thought advocated unethical or illegal conduct, would you?

Showing you defense exhibit A, what does it say?
[Officer reads t-shirt - "BADGES? WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' BADGES!"]

This item is prominently displayed and sold at Sally's Cop Shop, isn't it?

Showing you defense exhibit B, what does it say?
[Officer reads t-shirt - "OFFICER, WHAT DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SHOT THAT MAN? RECOIL." shown with armed SWAT guy in tactical dress and riot shield.]

Explain to the jury what "recoil" means, officer.

Please read defense exhibit C.
[Officer reads t-shirt, "TACTICS ARE NICE, BUT... VIOLENCE RULES THE DAY." shown with SWAT guys in tactical dress before a waving American flag.]

All these items are prominently displayed in a store that you support with your business, isn't that correct?

A store that caters to the tastes of law enforcement officers?

No further questions for this officer and Sally's Cop Shop customer, Your Honor.

More Clever Quips

Don't get me started on the additional cross examination the defense could do on the Constitution and the American flag in Exhibit C.

Here's more ammo for the defense:

  • TWO TO THE CHEST, ONE TO THE HEAD. WE LIKE 'EM ALIVE BUT WE'LL TAKE 'EM DEAD, circling a silhouette target.
  • THIS AIN'T MY FIRST RODEO shown with officer in tactical dress.
  • WE'RE THE BIGGEST STREET GANG IN AMERICA. WE'RE THE POLICE. [When Cultures Clash – Strategies for Strengthening Police-Community Relations, Daniel P. Carlson, p. 72 (2005).]
  • HAPPINESS IS... A GREEN LIGHT. [On a SWAT team’s t-shirt. "Green light" in this context usually means authorization to use deadly force. When Cultures Clash at 72.]
  • WE DON'T LIKE YOU! WE DON'T TRUST YOU. WE NEVER HAVE. WE NEVER WILL. circling a silhouette target.
  • The "WE" in this statement is law enforcement, isn't it, officer?
  • And the "YOU" isn't limited to people who have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury, is it?
  • So this "YOU" could include people like the ladies and gentleman of this jury?
"I don't know," they

Objection Overruled

Don't expect a "relevance" objection to save an officer here. Federal and state case law has long established that a witness can be impeached on the issue of bias. [Trials: Strategy, Skills, And the New Powers of Persuasion, Thomas A. Mauet, p. 214 (2004).] Judges allow wide latitude in this area.

The defense attorney is going to be allowed to cross examine an officer about beliefs or attitudes he might hold or have expressed which the defense can argue might have affected how he conducted himself or an investigation. How do you think Mark Fuhrman got crossed at length on his use of the "N" word?

And don't expect a prosecutor to touch this on re-direct. What's the officer going to say? "Just kidding"?

Funny Is As Funny Does

Gallows humor arises from stressful, traumatic or life-threatening situations. It can have a liberating effect amongst folks who share the stressful situations. But context is everything. Minorities can poke fun at themselves or refer to themselves in racial terms that when used by others are incendiary. We can gripe about our family, but heaven help the outsider that disrespects our Momma.

This isn't about fairness. It's about people's subjective realities. I once worked as a live-in group home counselor in a community residence for mentally retarded (an acceptable term back then) adults. At a party, I joked about writing a book called, "Blood, Sweat and 'Tards." After the laughter, a young man quietly remarked, "My sister's retarded." Ouch.

You're right - citizens don't understand your job, and a defense attorney is going to be arguing to a citizen jury,

Heaven help you ladies and gentlemen if you get [stopped, approached, questioned, your door knocked on] by Officer Jones, who subscribes to
  • TACTICS ARE NICE... BUT VIOLENCE RULES THE DAY.
  • HAPPINESS IS... A GREEN LIGHT.
  • BADGES? WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' BADGES.
What do you think Mr. Funny Officer is doing out on the street where he's the law?

It's Not Funny When It Becomes an Attitude

Dan Carlson also writes about the dangers of such sentiments becoming part of an officer's attitude. I've previously written about how officers take their "attitude" on the stand as nonverbal communication when they testify and how it can impact their credibility. [See, web link below.] The attitudes above do NOT enhance an officer's credibility on the stand.

Nor do they enhance the credibility of a department or the profession. How'd you like one of your department's brass on the stand being asked if they knew about the SWAT team's "funny" t-shirt? If they did, that's bad. If they didn't, that's bad - it makes the SWAT team look like rogues.

Interestingly, dictionary.com provides as one of the meanings of rogue:

No longer obedient, belonging, or accepted and hence not controllable or answerable; deviating, renegade: a rogue cop; a rogue union local.

Officer Safety is Serious Business

Here's something else to think about. In his thoughtful and provocative book, Dan Carlson quoted a police department's "Statement on Racial Profiling" (1999),

One of the strongest guarantees of officer safety is community support and acceptance.

Do the sentiments above enhance or undermine citizens' trust, support and acceptance? What about at the hands of an experienced defense attorney where the officer is constrained by leading questions?

The Dilemma

I don't have the answer. Mark that on your calendar - a lawyer who admits she doesn't know everything. I'm not suggesting officers abandon their humor. Given the job police do, if they didn't have a sense of humor they'd probably eat their gun.

And I'm not suggesting we all join the Society of the Perpetually Offended, or let them rule the world. But we have to think about this stuff and how we might be put on the defensive.

What kind of people act defensive? Guilty people. And that's what the jury sees. That's why the defense attorney tries to put every one else on trial but the defendant. It can be very effective when it's a cop on trial.

And on top of everything else they're tasked with, officers need to do an attitude check - every day, every shift, sometimes every hour and moment. Their lives may depend on it.

"I Don't Care Who You Are, That's Funny Right There." (Larry the Cable Guy)

A mother and son were walking through a cemetery, and passed by a headstone inscribed "Here lies a good lawyer and an honest man." The little boy read the headstone, looked up at his mother, and asked "Mommy, why did they bury two men there?"



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