Friday, August 20, 2010


The Den Mother, commenting on Roger Clemens over at Neo's.
My first reaction upon hearing this news yesterday was: When you lie to Congress, it’s perjury. When Congress lies to you, it’s campaigning.


Texan99 said...

Good one.

Much as I dislike being lied to, I'm getting tired of all the convictions based on lying to investigators who can't scrape together enough evidence to convict on the underlying crime: Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Gov. Blago. I don't object to perjury prosecutions for lying under oath during depositions or trials, but I think it's dangerous to extend the principle to interrogations or even more casual investigations and inquiries, and I'm disquieted by the seemingly growing number of high-profile cases in this category. It ought to be like Al Capone: you use this backdoor approach only when the underlying crime is awfully serious, and you really have no choice at all in the tool used to stop a dangerous criminal.

Texan99 said...

PS -- the Blago trial may be a terrible example, considering what may have been going on with the one hold-out on the jury. But I'm still not thrilled with the fact that they threw that count in there at all.

james said...

Contempt of congress is a crime, contempt for congress is automatic on inspection.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Texan, the general rule is that people who get convicted of lying to investigators are those who mistakenly think they are smart enough to outwit them without counsel. It's an area when smart lawyers hire other smart lawyers to assist them. But you are correct: it is a fall-back accusation by the investigators when they don't have enough evidence to convict on any actual crime.

They trade on our natural social desire to appear actually innocent - good people whose misdeeds, if any, are small and understandable. But that desire, as socially important as it is in normal situations, betrays us in formal situations. We forget that it doesn't matter if they think we are generally good people or not. All that matters is whether they have the evidence to convict. Be willing to sacrifice the investigator's general good opinion of you, and the natural added suspicion you invite by not talking chummily and freely, and shut up, even if you look, uncooperative to him. If you are being questioned you are under suspicion anyway. There will be plenty of time to do your citizenly duty and assist with the investigation later.

Texan99 said...

My husband and I like to watch forensic shows. We both find ourselves yelling at the screen whenever a suspect is yammering away in the interrogation room: "Lawyer!"

I'm a lawyer, but when I've been deposed myself, I break every rule I've ever given my clients. Answer questions "yes" or "no" whenever possible. Don't explain. Don't try to win his approval. Give him as few words as possible to work with and say nothing that he can misuse out of context. Don't guess. Don't exaggerate. Don't speak for effect. Imagine how what you're saying will look in print without your facial expression or tone of voice.

It's natural to fall into conversational mode and begin to react to social cues. It's hard enough not to do that when you're not formally under oath with your lawyer at your side and the stenographer making a transcript. I'm queasy about holding people criminally liable for misstatements in more casual settings, unless the lie was quite overt and there was a clear intent to obstruct justice. I say that even though I've often wanted to punch the noses of the obvious liars whose depositions I was taking. (The bar frowns on that, however.)