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Illustration: Teresanne CossettaLady Justice lies, perjury

Emergency perjury

When other charges fail, lawyers nail criminals for lying.


Between 1972 and 1991, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his subordinates, known as “Burge’s Asskickers,” allegedly beat and tortured more than 100 African-American suspects to force confessions. Although Burge never served a day in prison for the assaults, in January he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison—for lying. Attorney Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the People’s Law Office, which represented some of Burge’s victims, explains how perjury charges can help balance the scales of justice when other strategies fail.

“The government uses perjury and obstruction of justice in cases where there’s been an official cover-up for many years, like there was with Burge.”

“In all criminal cases except murder, the statute of limitations is three or five years. So by the time the cover-up came unglued and there was a will to prosecute from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald a few years ago, the only option left was an Al Capone–type of prosecution: They got Capone not for all his big crimes, but rather for tax evasion.”

“In several earlier civil-rights cases we had litigated, Burge and his officers denied under oath that they’d tortured anybody. In this latest trial, the government proved it by bringing in the testimony of five men who said they’d been tortured by electric shock and having bags put over their heads. There’s a powerful ‘code of silence’ among cops, but after the federal prosecutors granted immunity to former Area 2 detective officer Michael McDermott, they got him to testify he’d witnessed the torture, and this helped convince the jury Burge had lied.”

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