Can the Police Lie to You?

If you’ve ever seen a character in a television show or movie say something like, “If you’re a cop, you have to tell me,” you coming to the conclusion that the police can’t lie seems like common sense. Unfortunately, this is a falsehood. If you’re questioned by police in your home, or you’re brought into the station for interrogation, officers can lie to you to get the information they need for a conviction. Law enforcement personnel can both deceive and mislead you whether they’re known to be police or are working undercover, and it’s a myth that undercover cops have to reveal their true identities when asked.

Police are empowered to deceive suspects during an investigation according the the supreme court decision in Frazier v. Cupp. The case involved a U.S. marine, Martin Frazier, who confessed to a murder after being falsely informed that his cousin had confessed and implicated him in the crime. Frazier partly appealed his conviction on the grounds that his confession was given involuntarily. The supreme court at the time, lead by Chief Justice Earl Warren, said Frazier’s confession was not involuntary due to the “totality of the circumstances” despite officers feeding him false information. The court also dismissed the argument that Frazier wasn’t given his Miranda rights; the majority opinion noted that the Miranda v. Arizona case had not been decided at the time of the confession.

People find it hard to believe that anyone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit, making a confession an extremely valuable piece of evidence for prosecutors in a trial. Defendants are often convicted in jury trials when the prosecution has nothing more than a signed written statement from the accused. Despite the presence of Miranda warnings in popular culture, many defendants waive their right to remain silent in the belief that they can convince officers of their innocence. This is a mistake. This video, Don’t Talk to the Police, provides a clear understanding of your right to remain silent.

The 5th Amendment protects your right to stay silent when being questioned by the police. Innocent people have been sent to prison for long periods of time for saying incriminating things or making false confessions in front of cameras and officers. Interrogations, whether they take place in your home or in the police station, can be very intimidating to ordinary people. The best thing you can do if you’re being questioned by police as a suspect is to ask for a lawyer and stay quiet. You cannot be punished by a court for staying silent, but a lot can go wrong if you say the wrong thing to an officer. Don’t let lying police officers erode  your civil liberties.