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Archive for July 1st, 2012

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.  –  H.L. Mencken

In “Imagination Pinned Down” I explained how the human mind can and often does distort or manufacture memories in order to support an individual’s belief system; I pointed out that the existence of such distortion and fabrication invalidates the whole concept of eyewitness testimony, because there is no simple way to test the veracity of a witness’ memories in order to establish them as true recollections of real events.  But that’s not the only reason eyewitness testimony should be cast from the legal pedestal on which it has long been enshrined; people suffering from false memories at least believe what they say on the stand, but a far larger group of witnesses simply lie.

It has been well known for decades that police habitually falsify reports, manufacture or destroy evidence, and routinely commit perjury in order to convict innocent people or exonerate “brother officers” guilty of crimes.  The practice even has a name, “testilying”, and seems to have become the rule rather than the exception in the 1960s (when courts began to strengthen the rights of the accused); by 1992 a poll of judges and prosecutors showed that in their belief at least 20% of police testimony was false, and since it is in the best interest of these officials to minimize the issue we can estimate the real figure was more like 40-50%.  Since then, virtually everyone who has studied the practice agrees it has grown steadily worse, largely due to the “War on Drugs” and the “thin blue line” mentality cultivated by increasing police militarization.  Legal ethicists believe it has reached epidemic proportions:  in 1998 noted defense attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz testified before Congress on the extent of the problem and quoted a police source who said, “Cops are almost taught how to commit perjury when they are in the Police Academy” and that when it comes to minor offenses, “they’re almost always lying.”

One unintended consequence of universal criminality is that since nearly everyone has been accused of some crime or another (including traffic violations and the like) at some point in his life, a very large number of people have themselves been the victims of “testilying”; as a result, juries have become increasingly skeptical of police testimony (especially in consensual crimes), much to the chagrin of prosecutors.  But they and police have moved to fill the credibility gap by another method:  suborning perjury from manufactured “witnesses”.  Now, this is really nothing new; the use of torture to extract “confessions” of witchcraft, heresy or treason is probably as old as civilization, and the practice of rewarding jailhouse stool pigeons for hearsay evidence goes back at least to Biblical times.  But in the past few decades a new technique called “climbing the ladder” has gained in popularity among prosecutors, and to a lesser extent among police.

As explained by Harvey Silverglate in Three Felonies a Day, it works like this:  Say federal prosecutors want to bring down the head of a corporation, either because of personal enmity or merely because his conviction will make a valuable trophy.  Such a man is likely to have money and lawyers who will defeat any ill-supported accusations, so the prosecutors need a strong, credible witness to whatever “crime” they wish to frame their victim for.  But anyone close enough to the real target will also have access to legal protection, so the inquisitors start small:  they find some patsy whom they can threaten with total social and economic devastation and decades in prison via a host of spurious criminal charges, then make him a deal.  He will be “allowed” to plead guilty to a lesser charge, and perhaps even avoid prison time altogether, if he will agree to swear on the stand to whatever cock-and-bull story the prosecutors invent against the biggest victim he can credibly be depicted as having contact with.  This “evidence” is then used to threaten the new victim with a similar roster of imaginary offenses, and he, too is offered a deal…and so on, and so on, until they reach the top of the ladder or someone refuses to play the game, at which point he becomes a proxy sacrifice for the victim they really wanted to skin.

This is, of course, the method prosecutors use to bring down escort service owners, though in such cases the ladder is a much shorter one:  escorts are threatened with prostitution charges, tax audits, abduction of their children and the like in order to suborn perjury against the service owner; this is necessary because the “crime” of pandering is not a serious enough charge to justify the time and expense, and the prosecution must therefore manufacture “evidence” of money laundering, mail fraud, Mann Act violations, and most recently “human trafficking”.  The latter is not limited to actual service or brothel owners, nor even to people who actually have any direct business connection to whores; these are the cases in which the police are as likely to be the agents of coercion as prosecutors.  Imagine yourself a teenage streetwalker hauled in by a group of brutal thugs and thrown into a cell, threatened with imprisonment on whatever charges they can dream up…and then a detective or social worker comes in to play “good cop”, telling you that they know you’ve been “trafficked” and are willing to drop all charges – maybe even get you some goodies like a place to live and medical care – if you’ll just tell them the name of the bad men who “forced” you into prostitution.  Faced with such a choice, do you honestly believe you’d hesitate to name somebody – anybody – in order to get the deal?

As long as prostitution is criminalized, the only dependable way to discover the extent of coercion in the trade is to get that information from researchers who can win the confidence of a large enough sample of workers to be considered representative.  Any such statistics touted by police or other “authorities” is as questionable as the “testimony” they belch out in court, because there is absolutely no way to know how many so-called “human traffickers” were caged due solely to perjury coerced from frightened whores by cops and prosecutors eager to score the currently-popular fad conviction.

One Year Ago Today

Village Voice Strikes Again” is a brief account of the beginning of what Village Voice Media tells us will eventually become a full-fledged campaign for decriminalization.

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