A defendant provable lied in court. We had no right of reply to prove the lies were false. Nothing has been done afterwards. He was found guilty, but received a very light sentence probably based on these lies. Is this normal?


Is this normal?

Pretty much.

Witnesses lie in court all the time (in my experience, defendants, law enforcement officers and medical doctors are the most likely to lie).

Dealing with a witness who lies in court under oath effectively is one of the most challenging tasks lawyers face. It is an inherently challenging hurdle to proving or defending a case.

The facts as presented in court often differ in some material way from reality. It is a pretty tough thing to accurately measure, but my gut estimate would be that this happens in a least 30%-40% of cases that produce contested trials, although not infrequently, a judge or jury will not find the false testimony to be credible. On the other hand, it isn't at all uncommon (probably at least 10% of the time) for a judge or jury to believe the liars to be telling the truth, and to find the people who are telling the truth to be less credible.

There is absolute immunity from civil liability for lying in court testimony, although it could, in theory, give rise to contempt of court sanctions from the judge in some circumstances, or to a prosecution for perjury.

But, perjury prosecutions are, in practice, very rare, and a good share of them arise from false statements made in documents under oath, rather than from courtroom testimony. There is probably less than 1 perjury prosecution per 1000 provable lies made under oath in courtroom testimony on material issues that end up influencing the outcome in a case.

I totally sympathize with how frustrating this situation is having been there in cases that I am litigating many, many times. But, in short, life isn't fair.

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    @AtWitsEnd Generally speaking, the decisions on what evidence to present in a criminal case are made by the Crown attorneys and the defense attorney. Law enforcement has no say in that and the judge has only very limited control of that. – ohwilleke Aug 11 '18 at 22:50
  • When you say that officers and doctors are some of the most likely to lie, I can't help but wonder: what kind of lies are you thinking of? – zibadawa timmy Aug 17 '18 at 12:11
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    In the case of officers, mostly lies about what they witnessed in criminal cases and civil rights cases. In the case of doctors pretty much across the board from what patients told them, to what happened in a procedure, to financial and business matters, not just in malpractice cases or cases targeted at their finances, but in criminal and civil cases involving others who they have treated. My theory on doctors is that their professional ethos believes that "white lies" (e.g. misrepresentations re how long someone has to live) can have placebo effects and that lying for the greater good is OK. – ohwilleke Aug 17 '18 at 15:56

It would probably depend on the importance of the case.

For example, lying about a car parking offence is not exactly a crime that deserves a great deal of scrutiny whereas lying about the use of an algorithm that affects the lives of millions say in insurance or banking deserves a lot more scrutiny.

This is one reason for example the European Parliament has legislated for transparency in the use of algorithms (GDPR).

In fact Mark Zuckerberg was for questioning in front of the members of the EU Parliament this year in spring as reported by Gizmodo, here is a sample of questions he was asked by Belgiums Guy Verhofstadt (paraphrased for clarity):

Are you telling the truth when you say that you are applying the GDPR privacy standards? Because there are already indications that you are violating the regulations.

Article 82 of GDPR gives the ability of compensation for users who have their rights violated. Will you compensate European Facebook users when you violate GDPR and what will be the level of compensation?

Will you cooperate with European authorities, open your books and let us see whether Facebook is a monopoly?

How will you be remembered: as one of the three big internet giants along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have enriched our world, or as the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracy and society?

And Germany's Udo Bullmann:

Are you ready to comply with GDPR regulations within the next three days?

How can you explain that the number of false accounts on Facebook is on the rise?

What are you doing to target particularly sophisticated fake accounts, specifically when it comes to political manipulation?

Are you ready to guarantee that upcoming European elections will be free from manipulation from foreign and hostile powers? How can you adapt your business model to make this guarantee?

And Germany's Manfred Weber:

Is Cambridge Analytica an isolated phenomena? Can you guarantee that another scandal won't happen in three, six or nine months time?

Did you personally make the decision in 2015 not to notify users about the loss of their data to Cambridge Analytica? And why was the decision made not to notify them?

Is there an alternative to Facebooks service in Europe today?

Would you consider your company a monopoly?

I think it is time to discuss breaking up Facebook, can you convince me not to do so?

Gizmodo didn't report on the answers by Zuckerberg to these questions. They merely reported that his answers boiled down to 'Facebook needs to do better! And we are!'

They do report that:

The most intense moment came right as Zuckerberg was wrapping up. Britains Syed Kamall reminded the CEO he hadn't addressed concerns about 'shadow profiles' that Facebook builds around non-users data.

Zuckerberg tried to explain that Facebook has announced a clear history tool that will let all users wipe out basic browsing history data. He explained that the company keeps tabs on non-users to make sure that they aren't scraping data and to monitor 'how people use their data'.

Kamall interrupted to ask how a non-user can stop their data being transferred to Facebooks system. To which he responded curtly, "on the security side we think it's important that we protect people in our community", before turning to his counsel and changing the subject.

I guess he's not used to being interrupted. Getting the scrutiny right on this is important as it affects the lives - on the last count - of two billion people. Sometimes numbers matter.

  • What does this have to do with the expectation of the majority of actual court cases?. – Nij Aug 17 '18 at 5:52
  • @Nij: Did you read the first two paragraphs? There I was pointing out that the legal mind has to decide where the most important cases are in terms of the over all influence in society. Hence, small-minded disputes over car parking fines and rows by neighbours over the size and height of fence - in the larger scheme of things - aren't so important - taking into account how much the plaintiff and defendant might have invested in their small-minded dispute. So we should under 'majority' not by majority but by major. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 17 '18 at 9:00
  • @Nij: Thats why I used the example of Zuckerberg facing a grilling in front of the EU Parliament. Privacy, misinformation and political manipulation are a major issue right now and they affect a majority. This is why Zuckerberg was asked to come in front of the EU Parliament. It's noticeable he declined to attend a session of questions at the UK parliament - which merely shows that Zuckerberg can't afford to ignore the EU whereas he can with the UK. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 17 '18 at 9:05
  • @Nij: I could have used as an example the recent revelations about RBS uncovered by the US prosecutors. No doubt they lied there. Otherwise why did it take ten years to reveal what had been talked about freely where no-one could listen? Those transcripts could have been made available ten years ago right in the middle of the crisis - after all, they were recorded then. It took ten years to reveal the truth behind the lies. But since I've used RBS in a another answer I thought I'd use a different example here - one that is of contemporary value. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 17 '18 at 9:11

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