We need to outlaw the “perjury trap”

Is it just me, or are other people getting tired of seeing the “perjury trap” used to bring prominent people down? With politicians the issue has on occasion been about sex. Here’s how it works: you start out with a politician, who, like many politicians (and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers), has at one time or another had a wandering eye. Next, you take this non-criminal behavior and you criminalize it by forcing that politician, under one pretext or another, to admit or deny the affair under oath.

Facing a potential media circus (and related family and political injury) the politician denies the affair. Then, using all of law enforcement’s potent resources (apparently unneeded for comparatively unimportant work such as solving murders and the like), you prove that the affair did, in fact, take place.

Having taken entirely non-criminal conduct and successfully turned it into a crime, the prosecution then declares to the world that the issue is not sex, but perjury, and the integrity of the judicial process.

This, of course, is how Ken Starr came close to bringing Bill Clinton down.

(Although we’ll have to see how the facts develop, the new charges against Detroit’s mayor may not entirely fit this pattern, given that the underlying suit that led to the testimony in question did involve claims related to the alleged affair. Still, as a general principle I hate seeing alleged perjury used as a basis for bringing a prosecution that is really about sex.)

As I’ve discussed before, use of the perjury trap is becoming far too common in relation to the issue of steroid use by former athletes. Directly charging the athlete in question for the conduct itself is generally not feasible for a number of reasons. So, instead, prosecutors and politicians have been springing the perjury trap. Force the suspected “dirty” athlete to answer questions under oath about alleged steroid use before a grand jury or a congressional committee. Facing the likelihood of having their images destroyed, the athletes have a strong motivation to fib.

Then, using law enforcement resources of a magnitude that wouldn’t be expended in the average triple murder investigation, the government is able to prove the testimony false.

“Gotcha!” And now, it’s off to jail with you . . . you steroider you.

Score one for the “good guys,” right?

This is a crock. It’s one of the fundamental precepts of ethical law enforcement that criminal investigations are supposed to be directed against crimes, not people. Here this principle is turned on end. The purpose of a perjury trap is not to uncover criminality, but to generate it. It demeans the system and opens the door wide to political abuse.

Let’s be clear: what’s objectionable here isn’t forcing people to give testimony they don’t want to give. The Bush Administration’s claim that congressional efforts to obtain testimony regarding the firing of US Attorneys amounted to a “perjury trap,” for example, was absurd.  All administration representatives had to do to stay out of trouble was to tell the truth.

 What is objectionable, however, is where testimony is sought, not primarily to obtain needed information, but, instead, in the hope of trapping the witness in a perjured statement.

And that is happening too often. 

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2 Responses to “We need to outlaw the “perjury trap””

  1. alwayshope Says:

    It’s like the imprisonment of Siegelman. They find someone they want to prosecute and then they set out to find or create a crime. They don’t play fair which in this bizzarro world gives them an advantage.

    I went to see Bill Clinton today with my best friend and my sister. We had a ball!
    Got autographed pics, some pretty good video and Bill was at his best.
    He was funny and that guy really knows how to connect with people.

    I gotta say, this is fun….you know, thinking that your vote might actually matter in a primary. In Indiana, this just doesn’t happen. Hillary will be here next and so will Obama. I’ve got the bug…I might go see them too.

    We met a couple who drove from Milwaukee to get Bill to autograph a saxophone, they were also parrotheads and a real treat to meet.

    The Democrats are coming out of hiding in Indiana….look out McCain……we are gonna kick your butt.

    I know Obama is probably our guy, but the fight in Hillary has made even this little red state feel relevent and I like it. Isn’t that what Democracy is supposed to be like? When I vote in a primary, why should the results be unimportant? This year, this drunken sailor, this searching meanderer can cast a vote that might just make a difference. That’s powerful stuff. I’ve been tired of the whole thing and wanting Hillary to quit but ……..jeez…..
    when was the last time I saw a presidential candidate in my state? In 1968 Bobby Kennedy was here and I was there to hear him speak. So forgive me if I seem a little star struck by the attention we are getting…but damn it…I like politics and this is fun.

  2. Larkrise Says:

    I agree with you on this issue, Steve. The entire ring-around-the rosie is rife with political abuse. This, then, costs the taxpayers millions of dollars, so the opponent can say:”See, they are not honest.” The opponent, however, is undoubtedly hiding crimes far more disreputable than infidelity: like no-bid contracts to their flunkies; hidden offshore accounts that launder money; vote-selling; and on and on. No one, and I mean NO ONE on this earth has led a blameless life. If it hasn’t been infidelity, then it has been selfishness, greed, insensitivity to suffering, lying, cheating, back-stabbing, impatience, road-rage, you name it and every human being has been less than noble at some point in their lives. The corporate-owned Media adores these sex scandals, because they are juicy and sell papers or entice viewers. They fan the flames and drag out every nasty detail possible. It is disgusting. If public money is being spent, like Giuliani did for his mistress, then out the culprit. But, if not, there are far worse crimes that need attending to and require funds that are getting scarcer and scarcer. Our political system just gets uglier and uglier. The Don Siegleman case is one very tragic example. The Repugnants have gotten it down to a fine art. KKKarl Rove is the slimiest example. Sputum has more honor than that hairball. Ken Starr is another piece of garbage that misused power and public money. He should be forced to pay it back, the scumbag. He played a very costly and very disreputable game. He deserves nothing but derision and scorn.

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