The Double Standard On Perjury by Ed Quillen

© 2003 Denver Post

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


 

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January 26, 2003 — It may seem like some forgotten relic of prehistory, but actually it wasn't all that long ago. Indeed, only four years have passed since we were being treated to frequent explanations of how perjury threatened the very fiber of our nation, especially when the person lying under oath was on the public payroll.

The prominent perjury issue then was William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States. For his actions while he was governor of Arkansas, Clinton had been sued for sexual harassment by Paula Corbin Jones, a former state employee.

Her attorneys were attempting to determine whether Clinton's actions toward Jones were part of a pattern of behavior. While under oath in a deposition, he denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. As special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's exhaustive investigation demonstrated, Clinton had been far from candid about that relationship.

On that basis, he was the second president in American history (Andrew Johnson was the first in 1868) to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. When the issue moved to the Senate in 1999, Clinton also became the second not to be convicted and removed from office.

If Clinton had only had the good sense to resign then, Al Gore would likely be president now, and for all I know, we might not be preparing to go to war with Iraq.

At any rate, Jones won some money and the Republic survived. And at about the same time, more perjury was afoot — perjury that resulted in death. But for some reason, the same right-thinking folks who were demanding that Clinton be punished for perjury were remarkably silent about this act of perjury by a public employee.

The perjurer in this case was Joseph Bini, a Denver police officer. The case is back in the news, now that new information has emerged.

On Sept. 23, 1999, Bini lied under oath when he obtained a search warrant. His lie sent a police SWAT team to storm the wrong house in a no- knock drug raid. No drugs were found, but a resident of the house, Ismael Mena, was killed by police bullets.

This does illustrate that the War on Drugs is truly a war, since it produces collateral damage, like the death of an innocent man.

It also illustrates that, in some right-thinking law-and-order circles, there's a double standard for perjury. If Bill Clinton does it, he should be removed from office, even if no one suffered physical harm, let alone death, in the process.

But after Joe Bini lied under oath and caused a homicide, what happened? He was suspended without pay for a few months and is now back on the public payroll, working in the Denver police chief's office.

Presidential perjury (as opposed to presidential lying, i.e, a tax cut for billionaires will provide an overall economic stimulus) is rather uncommon, because presidents are seldom under oath in a judicial proceeding. Police perjury is another matter, since they often testify.

How common is it? In recent years, I've had occasion to visit our municipal court twice, and both times, I saw cops lying under oath.

I asked a judge I know if this was unusual. "No," he said. "It has happened at every criminal trial I've presided over."

So why aren't there prosecutions? "For one thing, it's difficult to prove. For another, prosecutors have to work with the police, and you're not going to have a good working relationship if you're also prosecuting them. And besides, we have juries to sort out who's telling the truth and who isn't."

This isn't just a local phenomenon. Vincent Bugliosi was a prominent prosecutor in Los Angeles — three decades ago, he got the convictions against the Manson family. In one of his books, he cites "a distinguished member of the New York bar," Francis L. Wellman: "Scarcely a trial is conducted in which perjury does not appear in a more or less flagrant form."

Bugliosi says perjury is so common that it must be expected. It might be less common if it were always taken seriously — as seriously as it was in Clinton's case.

But that seems to be too much to expect in modern America. Four years ago, we heard plenty about how terrible it was that a president would lie under oath. Yet those same people were remarkably silent about a police officer lying under oath, even in a case that led to the death of a man whose only offense — if we can believe the police statements that he had a pistol — was the attempted exercise of his right to self-defense in his own home after it had been stormed by armed men.

One of these days, the law-and-order types might start showing some consistency. But it hasn't happened yet.

 

Ed Quillen of Salida, Colorado (ed@cozine.com) is a former newspaper editor whose column appears Tuesday and Sunday in the Denver Post.

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| EJF Home | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | EJF Newsletters |

| Courts, Veteran Courts, And Civil Liberties | Contents | Index |

 

| Chapter 2 — Perjury And False Allegations |

| Next — Lying in the Courtroom — It Happens All The Time by Richard M. Schmitt |

| Back —Denver's Bad Boy Cops by Christopher N. Osher |


 

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