Historically, prosecutors have been barred from allowing testimony that the prosecutor knows or should have known was false. Unfortunately, this standard seems to have corroded over time. Today, the standard that prosecutors must meet in determining whether someone is testifying truthfully is, for all practical standards, non-existent.
It may be time for the courts to return to the laws surrounding false testimony. It happens quite often that an alleged victim motivated by factors outside the unique crime may not be testifying accurately. Some outside influences include the chance to become a US citizen (for immgrant alleged victims), the chance to receive custody of their children (for individuals involved in divorces and child custody issues), the chance to separate a person from welfare checks, the opportunity to get the accused to do what you want, and myriad other reasons why a person might not tell the truth when testifying.
These issues can be brought up by the defense but the appearance of impropriety should not have to be raised for the first time in front of a jury. It is fundamentally unfair for a defendant to be unable to defend himself against false testimony prior to the trial date. The Due Process standards that underly testimony should be revisited to determine what standards are most appropriate when allowing testimony which can convict a person of a crime.
One of the best ways that the courts could begin to address due process is to find that prosecutors are in violation of their duties if they did not do adequate discovery to determine whether the testimony was false or if there is evidence that contradicts the statements of the alleged victim. Court rules require disclosure of an alibi witnesses by the witnesses specifically so the State can find witnesses who may contradict the alibi’s statement. Is it to much to ask for the State to do just as much work on their own witnesses’ statements so that they meet their duty to protect the State from falsely convicting individuals?
Second, prosecutors talk about the deterrent effect of jail. That is, if a person is facing jail time for doing something, that person will be less likely to do that thing. Shouldn’t the same be true for alleged victims? If an alleged victim wants to lie in court, shouldn’t they also face perjury charges. It is time for prosecutors to stand up and use that deterrent effect to ensure the integrity of their own process.
False testimony sends innocent people to jail. The prosecutors need to do more to ensure that false testimony does not occur. Unfortunately modern court rules do not put any real restrictions on prosecutors. In order to ensure the integrity of the judicial process, courts should revisit their own rules and the way due process is beign interpreted, with regard to false testimony, so that the judges can guarantee that the Constitution, truth, and fairness are being upheld in their courtrooms.