Cops lie

A few times a month, I get a call from someone who was busted for a relatively minor offense — DUI or drug possession, for example — and are being pressured by the police to “cooperate.” Cooperate, of course, is cop-speak for “snitch.” The police suggest, insinuate, or just flat say that if you help (usually by doing a few controlled purchases), they won’t file charges.

Don’t fall for it. They’re not allowed to do that.

The law in Pennsylvania has been clear on this point for almost 20 years — police are not allowed to cut their own deals, but there is no penalty to the police if they do so. Let me explain.

The lead case in this area is Commonwealth v. Stipetich. In 1990, police in Pittsburgh raided a home. The search turned up small amounts of drugs, so the police offered the homeowners a deal — give up the source of the drugs, and we won’t prosecute you. The homeowners agreed, worked out a deal with the police, and gave up the dealers.

And then the police filed charges anyway.

The homeowners filed a motion to dismiss, basically seeking to enforce the deal they worked out. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. The Commonwealth appealed, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court held that the “deal” was unenforceable because only the DA can make a decision not to prosecute — and reinstated the complaint.

That’s right — the police made a deal they had no right to make. The DA prosecuted anyway because the police cannot bind the DA to any deal. And the Court says the prosecution is okay.

Meaning that accused defendants get the shaft.

So when a cop tries to “work something out” with you, when a cop tells you that he’ll “help you out” if you cooperate, when a cop says he’ll “go easy on you” if you snitch, just remember this: that cop is lying. He is doing something he is not allowed to do. He can get the info from you, and then file a complaint anyway.

And he will never get in trouble for it.

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