When Cops Are Lying vs. Bullshitting

dog poo.jpgHere in Orlando, there are plenty of police reports that contain flat out “lies”, and others are simply complete bullshit. Now, there is a difference. Let’s examine that difference thru two examples.

The first example is of a law enforcement “lie”, and it comes via a big drug trafficking case I handled earlier this year. My client was pulled over at 1 a.m. in a friend’s car, with tinted windows, because the officer “recognized him as a habitual traffic offender, and verified such thru the D.A.V.I.D. system prior to stopping the vehicle.” As you might expect, there was enough drugs in the trunk to get him a mandatory prison sentence. My client swore the cop didn’t even know his name, so I pulled the D.A.V.I.D. records from Tallahassee and compared them to the dispatch records and sure enough, the officer did not even run my client’s name until 21 minutes after the stop! Reason for the stop: a complete lie, case dismissed.

The second example is of law enforcement bullshit. and this is most common in DUI police reports, especially those that have no video verification. Professor Harry Frankfurt draws an important distinction between lying and bullshitting in his essay “On Bullshit.” He says a liar still cares about the truth, but a bullshitter is not bound by concepts of truth, as the truth is ‘totally besides the point.’ Bullshit is often characterized by the regurgitation of the legally appropriate, typical script. [quote from Perry’s book, below] This “typical script” is exactly what I’ve been seeing in DUI arrest affidavits for the past 18 years.

Police officers b.s. constantly in DUI arrest reports, and one author notes that “making shit up is not to be confused with outright lying, though lying is sometimes involved. Making ship up is more like painting the lawn green when the queen comes to town. The grass may well be green to start with, but it ain’t that green.” from Laura Penny’s book “Your Call Is Important to Us, The Truth About Bullshit” (a great book, you should read it…).

Back when I started defending criminal cases in 1993, many sheriff’s offices had “in car videos” recording DUI arrests. Those video cameras were pulled from the cars because “they were losing too many cases”. Let’s face it, without video, it’s a lot easier to bullshit. Let’s just hope our citizens–and judges–can recognize it for what it is. Of course, maybe the same can be said of we criminal defense attorneys, right? Well, that could be the subject of a law enforcement blog out there, and it would be well deserved….