Can a police officer lie during an interrogation to get a confession?

Police officers often have to use a variety of techniques while questioning a suspect. Recently on our criminal forum a user asked, “If I have been arrested for a crime and I am interrogated by a police officer are they allowed to lie to me in an effort to persuade me to confess? What about hitting me or threatening to hurt me?”

Lying, Trickery, and Deceit during interrogation

It’s not unusual for police officers to lie, trick or otherwise deceive suspects to produce a confession. For example, officers may tell a suspect they have evidence they committed the crime (e.g., fingerprints, DNA samples or eye witness testimony). They also may be legally allowed to state that another accomplice has already confessed.

The most famous case which established the current precedent was the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731, 1969. In this case the court ruled that the confession of the murder suspect which was obtained through the deception of the police was allowed because it did not “shock the conscience of the court or community.”

So where do the courts draw the line?

Unfortunately, whether a form of trickery may "shock the conscience of the community" may be a bit nebulous. The U.S. Supreme Court did, however, provide several instances where trickery would not be lawful. For example, they suggested it would be unlawful if the police officer tricked the suspect into believing he was his attorney or posed as a clergyman to elicit a confession.

In more recent cases other states have also made further distinctions about lying about the investigation vs. lying about the legal issues of the court system (e.g., lesser charges or a reduced sentence). Still other states contend that an officer may lie about evidence and refer to the false evidence but may not actually manufacture evidence (i.e., create an actual video with an informant lying about witnessing a murder and showing that video to a suspect in order to elicit a confession).

Courts have also not allowed what are termed “coercive tactics” to get a confession (i.e., hitting, punching, threatening violence, torture, or drugging).

Bottom Line:

Police officers may use a variety of deceptive practices to persuade a suspect to confess. Laws regarding what a police officer may and may not do, however, can be very complicated. As mentioned above, the officers may never use violent strategies such as hitting, kicking, or torture.

Police officers should not manufacturer false evidence, but they may be allowed to verbally reference information they do not actually possess. Props may also be allowed, although using props may increase the risks the suspect calls their bluff and asks to view the evidence.

Hiring a lawyer

If you have been arrested for a crime you have rights. Specifically:

  • The right to remain silent
  • Told that anything you say could be used against you
  • Told that you could have your attorney present during questioning
  • The right not to answer questions after you requested a lawyer
  • The right to humane treatment
  • The right not to be held for an extended period of time without being charged with a crime
  • The right not to be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment
  • The right to a speedy trial

If your rights have been violated or you need help defending yourself after you have been charged with a crime, talk to a criminal lawyer.


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