EDITORIAL: Court takes ax to testimony police won’t defend

SHARE EDITORIAL: Court takes ax to testimony police won’t defend
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Roberto Almodovar Jr. hugs relatives after he was freed from prison in April 2017 after serving 23 years behind bars. Almodovar and Juan Maysonet Jr. filed tlawsuits Sunday night in U.S. District Court amid allegations that their confessions to murder charges were coerced. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

An Illinois Appellate Court ruling last month made it more important than ever that Chicago rein in cops who think they can make up their own rules and violate civil liberties.

On March 22, the First District court ruled that lower courts should make an “adverse inference” when police officers in a post-conviction hearing take the Fifth Amendment — declining to testify so as not to incriminate themselves — and refuse to talk about their work in criminal cases.

EDITORIAL

In other words, if a police officer refuses to testify about the circumstances surrounding a confession to a crime, for example, judges should infer the confession probably wasn’t valid. The only exception would be if the court has “some defensible reason” not to.

The sight of police officers and retired police officers taking the Fifth in cases in which they were involved has become far too common. In recent years, more than 30 have done so. Last year, a Chicago Police officer and a retired Chicago Police officer both took the Fifth Amendment in two separate courtrooms in two separate cases — on the very same day.

Most cops do a hard job well and routinely testify about how they handle cases.

But some don’t. Former Chicago Police Comdr. Jon Burge and some cops who worked with him beat confessions out of people. Since 2016, at least nine convictions linked to former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara have been vacated amid charges of police wrongdoing.

The cost to taxpayers keeps spiraling upward. On Sunday, two men who were freed from prison filed lawsuits in federal court. All five former cops involved in that case — including Guevara — had indicated they were planning to take the Fifth.

Police misconduct victimizes innocent individuals, and ever-mounting settlements are pushed off onto Chicago taxpayers. The city has paid tens of millions of dollars to settle just the cases involving Burge.

The appellate court’s ruling puts prosecutors on notice that cases in which cops give doubtful testimony are far more likely to be overturned in post-conviction proceedings. It also puts the city on notice that it needs to get its policing policies and training in order.

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