Myth Busting: The Police Can't Lie to Me, Can They?
By: LN on Mar 13, 2013 04:50:07 PM
Yes. Yes they Can.

Again, Yes! In fact, they are encouraged to lie because it’s a great way to get you to confess to something whether you did it or not. A favorite tactic of the police is to tell you they have evidence against you they don’t actually have. It could be DNA, fingerprints, a witness who doesn't exist, or a witness who does exist but never saw anything that can be used against you. And don't even get me started on the urban myth about how the police have to tell you they're the police if you ask them. (They don't.)
 "A favorite tactic of the police is to tell you they have evidence against you they don’t actually have."
And for the most part, the Supreme Court says it just fine. In Frazier v. Cupp, a case from 1969, the Court affirmed a murder conviction where the defendant confessed after being told that his cousin had already admitted to the crime. Since then, the case law is full of examples of police getting confessions by
  • Exaggerating the strength of the evidence: Implying that the officer had more knowledge about a crime than actually possessed; 
  • Overstating crime laboratory evidence;
  • Falsely stating that a suspect's fingerprints had been found;
  • Falsely stating that a witness had identified the suspect;
  • Falsely stating that a gunshot residue test was positive;
  • Failing to reveal that the police officer was conducting a criminal investigation;
  • Falsely stating the elements of a crime to encourage a suspect to reveal information that police said couldn't hurt him. 
These are just some of the tricks the police can and will use to get you to talk. 
Don't go alone!
There Are Some Limits

This isn't to say that the police can do anything at all to get you to confess. The courts have set some general limits. The confession still has to be “voluntary.” That means the tactics used by the police cannot have been so extreme that your “will is overborne” – in short, that you can’t think for yourself anymore. The courts will look at all the circumstances around a confession and decide if this is the case. 

Most of the time, courts give the green light. However, some kinds of police deception have been expressly condemned. Promising leniency or assistance from the police is generally considered going too far. In People v. McClary, police promised a woman leniency if she would change her story to match the facts represented by the police. One of the officers told her: “Unless your story changes to where you can say something else happened and we can prove you true, [sic] you're going to be tried [for murder].” This, courts have said, is going too far, because it’s not deigned to get at the truth as the suspect know its, but to “produce evidence to support a version of events the police had already decided upon.” (See People v. Lee (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 772.) 

Another example of police misconduct that can get a confession thrown out are threats to separate a mother from her children. In the famous case of U.S. v. Tingle, police told the defendant that unless she confessed, she “would not see her young child for a long time.” The court said that  when “law enforcement officers deliberately prey upon the maternal instinct and inculcate fear in a mother that she will not see her child in order to elicit 'cooperation,'” they are exerting improper influence and the confession is suspect. 

These are some extreme examples, and they illustrate just how far the police have to go before your confession is going to be thrown out because of deceit and lies by the police. 

The Moral of the Story

As always, the moral of the story is simple: Don’t talk to the police without a lawyer. Ask for your lawyer right away. In fact, don’t talk to anyone about your case except your layer. If you’re going to be talking to the police at all (and 99 times out of 100, you won’t want to do this), you need someone there who can protect you from these tactics. The police are much better at this than you are. Don’t go it alone. 


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