New York’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police officers can be cross-examined at criminal trials like any other witnesses and grilled about specific misdeeds alleged in federal lawsuits such as lying, fabricating evidence or false arrests.
The Court of Appeals, ruling unanimously in three cases, said trial judges erred in prohibiting cross-examination about allegations underlying federal lawsuits against the police witnesses that are relevant to their credibility. The court set some limits but said judges retain broad discretion.
“These cases stand for the unremarkable proposition that law enforcement witnesses should be treated in the same manner as any other prosecution witness for purposes of cross-examination,” Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote.
Lawyers shouldn’t be permitted to ask witnesses if they have been sued if the case was settled, unless they admitted wrongdoing or if criminal charges against the plaintiffs were dismissed, according to the court.