The Public Deserves to Know Whether They Can Trust Police Officers Who Testify in Court

In New Hampshire, police officers are given special protections: Their personnel files are deemed confidential by the government. At the same time, to ensure that criminal defendants can present a strong defense, both the New Hampshire and U.S. Constitutions require that defendants have access to evidence that might help their case, including exculpatory evidence in a police officer’s personnel file. 

The state’s “Laurie List,” named after a 1995 New Hampshire Supreme Court case, was created in an attempt to reconcile these two conflicting principles. Officers’ names may be placed on the list for incidents relating to their truthfulness or credibility. This would include, for example, a deliberate lie during a court case, the falsification of records or evidence, any criminal conduct, egregious dereliction of duty, or excessive use of force.

But there’s a glaring problem with the Laurie List: It’s secret.

Currently, there are 171 officers on the list, but their identities remain unknown outside of the halls of the New Hampshire Department of Justice, each county prosecutor’s office, and local police departments.  This secrecy means that the public is left unaware of which officers in their towns have had issues concerning their truthfulness or credibility. It also means that defense lawyers have no way to verify whether state prosecutors are properly disclosing to defendants in criminal cases when a testifying officer has a credibility issue. 

The ACLU of New Hampshire and six newspapers believe this arrangement is an ongoing recipe for disaster, which is why we challenged the secrecy of this list in state court last week. As our lawsuit explains, under New Hampshire law, this list is a public record and should be disclosed to the public. Any privacy interest held by the 171 officers on the list, who have engaged in misconduct that bears on their credibility or truthfulness, must yield to the common good.

In a democracy, the public has a right to know if they can trust the public servants who are given the authority to take away their liberty. Anything less undermines confidence in the state’s criminal justice system. As the lawsuit notes:

“Keeping information secret, especially when it comes to police behavior and how prosecutors do their jobs, only creates distrust and suspicion that minimizes the hard work and dedication shown by the overwhelming majority of law enforcement professionals.”

The system is already imperfect, and this secrecy makes it worse. On multiple occasions, the state has failed to inform a criminal defendant that an officer involved in their case was on the list. Furthermore, a single corrupt officer may affect dozens of cases. The firing of a police detective in Manchester, New Hampshire, forced prosecutors to drop 35 felony drug cases. In a separate incident, after two officers were fired for allegedly lying about a case, 20 other cases were dropped

The stakes of keeping the Laurie List secret are simply too great. The state must produce the list and make it public for all to see.


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Dr. Timothy Leary

171? Isn't that more than the all the officers in New Hampshire?

Anonymous

If only innocent minorities were treated as well as crooked cops.

Anonymous

The real crisis in the justice system today is that we are losing our Independent Judiciary. If the Judicial Branch is healthy and functioning properly, it protects the most unpopular and poorest among us from the other two political branches (driven by voters and constituents). Congress, presidents, governors and state legislators can do many great things but the political branches have one giant flaw - they focus primarily on "popular" issues favored by the voters and constituents. Many state governments have essentially made judges into regular politicians with judicial elections (which the Roberts' Court could outlaw today). Today many state governments have "3" political branches without an Independent Judiciary that protects the poor, unpopular and least among us. James Madison termed this design as a "Tyranny of the Majority" - basically a lynch mob justice system where the Bill of Rights fails to "restrain" unconstitutional authority. This is not just a liberal view, Ronald Reagan wanted all torture and cruel treatment to be criminally prosecuted, even if the citizens supported sadistic and ungodly treatment of suspects. Reagan signed a legally binding international treaty that required American judges, the U.S. Department of Justice and state prosecutors to investigate and indict all forms of torture and cruel treatment (including post-9/11 blacklisting). Since 9/11, over 86% of all detainees have been found to have "0" ties to terrorism. The so-called "Worst of the Worst" were so harmless they have since been released. Those detainees and others blacklisted have been destroyed without an apology or compensation from former Bush officials, this includes native born U.S. citizens. Voters simply don't care about this unpopular issue, judges have a sworn duty to care. Anyone that has watched the true-life based series "Orange is the New Black" has seen prison guards rape, torture and abuse female prisoners, the voters really don't care about this unpopular issue, non-political judges have a duty to care. Today we have pre-teen children (without their parents) facing immigration judges as "pro se" defendants. Even though most of these children are also Christian children - America's majority Judeo-Christian voters don't care about this unpopular issue, judges have a duty to care. We shouldn't expect the two political branches to exceed the limits of the popular vote, but we should demand that we have a healthy and functioning Judicial Branch!

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