May 12, 2008 2:10PM


“Testilying” is a term that police officers use to describe false testimony they give in court so that an otherwise illegal search or arrest can be justified. It’s hard to tell how common the practice is, but it’s much more common than most people want to believe.

This New York Times report is telling. First, we don’t know how many illegal searches and arrests take place because, as Federal Judge John Martin observes, “We don’t have statistics for all the people who are hassled, no gun is found, and they never get into the system.” These are low‐​visibility state offenses that we might call state misdemeanors. They happen all over but more often in the poorer neighborhoods. Who would go to the trouble of consulting a lawyer for an illegal 10 minute police stop and pat‐​down? How many lawyers would bother to take such a case if someone did walk in off the street with such a complaint?

Next come the cases where the police find contraband and go to court with a fabricated story in order to try and get a conviction. In a system where such conduct goes unpunished, it’s safe to say we’re going to get more of it. And the cops who skirt the rules are likely to rise through the ranks faster. After all, they have many more arrests to their credit than their peers.

Note the utter indifference of the police and prosecutors to reports of testilying.

Kudos to the New York Times for this “revealing glimpse” of our troubled system. For some related Cato work, go here and here