While preventing police misconduct is on the political agenda, it is interesting that the debate focuses on the interests of victims of crimes and society instead of the significance of defendants’ fair trial rights for a proper administration of justice.
In April of this year, an interesting case of police and prosecutorial misconduct arose before the Court of The Hague. The case concerned a young woman who was a victim of domestic abuse. After a first visit to the police station to report the abuse by her boyfriend, she decided not to file an official criminal complaint. The next evening the police officer in charge of the case visited her at her home address to convince her to do otherwise. Subsequently the woman returned to the police station to talk to the police officer, during this conversation she told him about her job (she was a prostitute) and informed him that she is not interested in filing a criminal complaint. In the months that followed, the police officer repeatedly contacted the woman, expressing his interest in having a sexual relation with her. Although initially no criminal complaint was filed, during this period the police arrested the boyfriend on charges of domestic violence and forced prostitution. At this point the woman decided to file a criminal complaint against her boyfriend, later claiming she did so out of spite believing he had cheated on her. The police officer, who by this time had become a regular client of the woman, was coincidentally the chief police inspector on the case.
One does not need a fortuneteller to predict the outcome of this case. Suffice to say that the investigation was in no way conducted in a fair or impartial fashion. During the witness testimony, the woman attested that the police officer had pressured her to testify against her boyfriend, repeatedly telling her that she had been forced into prostitution, had promised to take care of her financially, and had actively excluded exculpatory evidence from the case file. Consequently, the court ordered an indefinite stay of proceedings on grounds that due to the gross violation of the defendant’s right to a fair and impartial investigation the possibility of a fair trial was rendered impossible.
Remarkably enough the prosecutor appealed the court’s decision, arguing that if the court had excluded the evidence obtained by the police officer concerned, it could have reached a guilty verdict for the charge on domestic violence. The focus of the prosecutor to secure a guilty verdict for the boyfriend is surprising considering the extent of the police misconduct in the case at hand. However, considering the focus of political debates on the issue of police and prosecutorial misconduct, it seems that the prosecutor’s position is reflected in general policy. The debate often focuses on the negative effects of the misconduct for victims and society, underplaying the importance of defendant’s rights for a proper administration of justice. Although this kind of misconduct can lead to the exclusion of evidence or a stay of proceedings, thus reducing the possibility of “justice being served”, it is difficult to maintain that victims of a crime or society as a whole have an interest in securing a verdict on the basis of fabricated evidence, risking a miscarriage of justice.
While criminal law enforcement is an important aspect of maintaining law and order in society, we should not lose sight of other aspects such as respect for individual freedom and the proper exercise of government power. Moreover while taking account of the interests of society we cannot abstract from defendants’ rights, as they form part of that very same society.