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All the Scenarios When Police Can Lie to You

Posted in Police on September 17, 2018

It may come as a surprise, but police can legally lie to you if it’s for the purpose for solving a crime. In many cases, police use deception as a tactic to resolve a case that may be otherwise unsolvable. This can come in the form of undercover investigations, and interrogations where an officer may play on a suspect’s own sense of guilt.

When the Police Can Lie to You

Most of us understand the necessity for undercover investigations. Sometimes the only way to gain evidence of a crime is for an officer to go undercover. In terms of drug-related offenses, there is legal precedent for law enforcement to infiltrate a drug ring and have minimal participation in unlawful practices if it is for the sake of collecting evidence that officers couldn’t otherwise obtain.

However, many people question the legality and morality of situations where an officer may lie to obtain a confession from a suspect. Such deception is permissible so long as it doesn’t involve coercion to do so. Acceptable forms of deception to extract a voluntary confession are lies about:

  • Having physical evidence, such as fingerprints at the scene of the crime or discovery of murder weapons
  • Failed test results, such as a polygraph or chemical test
  • Having eyewitnesses
  • Recording conversations
  • Claims that a murder victim is still alive
  • Having an accomplice’s confession

For example, in the case of Frazier v. Cupp, law enforcement told a suspect that his accomplice had confessed, implicating the suspect for the crime when the accomplice was still at large. Believing that his accomplice had sold him out, the suspect then voluntarily confessed to the crime.

In the digital age, it is also legal for law enforcement to use fake webpages and news stories to identify suspects of crimes. While such pretexts are viable when trying to capture those who commit cyber crimes, they are also viable investigation approaches for illegal acts outside of technology.

When Pretexts Become Entrapment

While it is legal for law enforcement to use pretexts and deception to solve crimes, there are limits. Entrapment is a huge concern when police use such deception tactics and is, as such, illegal. Entrapment involves any strategies that coerce a suspect to commit a crime or make a confession they would not have otherwise.

Thinking back to the interrogation examples, some forms of deception a police officer cannot use to gain a confession from a suspect are:

  • Promises of preferential treatment
  • Misrepresentations of legal principles
  • Promises of mental health or other forms of medical treatment
  • Investigators claiming they are a suspect’s court-appointed attorney
  • Investigators posing as a clergyman
  • Saying that the police officer, who is a friend of the suspect, will get in trouble if the suspect fails to confess
  • Claiming that a recent legislation will allow the suspect to receive probation for confession or expressing remorse for the crime

Some of these statements imply that a suspect will receive some form of bonus for confession, which can lead to a suspect providing a false confession. In contrast, the permissible forms of deception have a much lower risk of a suspect falsely confessing, as they instead play on guilt rather than a sense of obtaining something.

While it may be disconcerting to know that police officer can lie to you, there are limits to what they can lie about. Any confession given under false pretenses, such as promises of preferential treatment, is not legally admissible as evidence into a court case, even if it is the truth.

If you ever have concerns about what a police officer can lie to you about, your best course of action is to exercise your right to remain silent and wait to speak to an attorney.