Can the Police Lie to You?
A question we’re frequently asked is whether the police are allowed to lie to suspects during the investigation of a crime. The short answer is “yes”, the police are under no obligation to be truthful with a person that they’re investigating. Remember, the job of the police is to gather evidence that can be used against you at a trial. Their goal is to get you talking, and sometimes the easiest way to do that is to lie about the information that they already have.
The first and most common thing that a police officer will tell a suspect is that if they JUST tell the police the truth, the officer will recommend that the suspect not be charged either at all or with a particular offense. Don’t fall for this. The police have no authority over what charges are filed; that is completely and solely within the discretion of the county Prosecutor. The officer may be able to recommend that a particular charge not be filed, but he has no authority to bind a prosecutor on that issue, and he knows it. This is just a tactic to try and get you to talk.
The next most common thing that a police officer will do to try and get you to talk is to pretend that he has more evidence against you than he already does. This can take a variety of forms: in a case with multiple suspects he can tell the person he’s interrogating that other suspects have identified him as the guilty party. They can claim to have surveillance footage placing the suspect at the scene of the crime. They can claim to have forensic evidence, like fingerprints or DNA, that places the suspect at the crime scene. They can also claim to have independent eyewitnesses that have identified the suspect. Usually the technique of claiming that they have evidence that doesn’t exist comes AFTER the technique of claiming that they’ll put in a good word with the Prosecutor fails. This line of questioning frequently starts with a statement along the lines of “Look, I’m just trying to give you an opportunity to cooperate and get some consideration in your case. We already know that you did this. We have X Evidence. Why don’t you just tell us what you did so we can move on?”
So why do the police do this? Because when suspects fall for these tactics they often provide a confession that can be difficult if not impossible to keep out of Court. As a general rule, if a confession is given VOLUNTARILY it can come in as substantive evidence. And, unfortunately, a statement made in response to a lie doesn’t make the statement involuntarily given.
Now, there are a few things the police can’t lie about. First, they can’t lie to you about whether you’ll receive a fair trial. For example, they couldn’t tell a black suspect that he should confess because he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in a predominantly white county. Second, they can’t threaten retaliation against a family member or a friend of the suspect. Court rulings have held that those types of techniques render a statement INVOLUNTARY because of the coercive pressure that believing that confessing is the only way to protect a (possibly innocent) third-party from prosecution means that the statement isn’t freely given.
Pursuant to the Indiana Rules of Evidence, nearly every interrogation where the issue of the police lying to you will be an issue is recorded, so it’s easier for your defense team to determine whether there is an issue with any confession you may have made. One thing that we see at the beginning of every one of these interrogations is the reading of your Miranda Rights. And the very first thing that you hear in that advisement is that you have the Right to Remain Silent. You need to use that right. Rights become meaningless when you don’t exercise them. Keep quiet, tell the police politely and firmly that you want an attorney, and wait for that attorney to do your talking for you.
At Razumich & Delamater, our goal is to make sure that each of our clients receives the personalized attention that their cases deserve so that they can make the best possible decisions on important matters affecting their future. We personally meet with everyone who sets an appointment with our office, and we will take as long as necessary to make sure that every question you have is answered as completely as possible. That’s our promise to you: we’re Lawyers Ready to Fight, and we look forward to fighting for you.