Most people assume that because police are charged with upholding the law that they wouldn’t lie in order to perform their duties. This is a very problematic assumption because it’s simply not true. Police can legally lie to suspects and often do in order to get confessions or otherwise get them to do what they want. This is yet another reason it is so important to have a San Diego criminal lawyer present when you speak with the police.
Common Police Lies
While there are many ways police can lie in order to get information from a suspect, these are some of the most common lies they tell, according to San Diego criminal defense attorneys:
- Lying about evidence: When trying to extract a confession, police will frequently say they have evidence that doesn’t exist. This may include claiming to have physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA, or witness testimony whether from an eye witness or an accomplice.
- Giving false or misleading tests: The only tests you are legally required to take without a warrant are the blood and breath tests used to determine if you have been driving under the influence. That being said, many people believe they should take a drug, lie detector, gun residue or other test simply because the police ask them to. Police take advantage of this by asking someone to take a test and then lying about the results. In many cases, they don’t even bother to administer a real test, they will sometimes run a lie detector test without even hooking the cables up or wipe a suspect’s hands with something and then claim the results showed gun residue. Never agree to take any test but a DUI-related test without your San Diego defense attorney present.
- Keeping things “off the record:” Tons of cop shows show police officers turning off their tape recorder and saying things are off the record during their interview. But the reality is that nothing is ever off the record when you speak with an officer -anything you say to police can be used against you.
- Claiming cooperating will help you: Helping police won’t result in reduced charges or lesser penalties, just as refusing to help won’t hurt your case. Not speaking to the police is your right, although lying to the police can hurt you as it can result in obstruction of justice charges. While you and your San Diego criminal defense lawyer may occasionally agree that you would like to assist the investigation, this is something you should not decide upon without talking to your attorney first -though police will often discourage you from seeking legal counsel. Also, remember that even if a cop says she wants to help you, but needs your side of the story, she doesn’t really care about helping you -she just wants to close her case.
- Saying that bad things will happen to others: While it’s illegal for police to threaten to arrest or punish your family members as this has been ruled likely to result in false confessions, they can still claim they will arrest or punish your friends or romantic partners. Just remember that if police claim someone you care about will go to jail for life that they probably don’t have any more evidence that person than they do you and are just trying to get a confession -plus the prosecutors are the only ones who decide who to press charges against and the judge is the only one who determines someone’s sentence. If the police claim your family member may go to prison or be arrested, tell your criminal attorney in San Diego because this is against the law and could even render a confession invalid.
- Dishonestly obtaining DNA: We already discussed the concept of “surreptitious sampling” in which police can get a DNA sample without a warrant, but it’s worth mentioning here to because it may not be an outright lie, but certainly can be dishonest. Essentially, if you’re offered a drink at the police station and throw away the cup where the police can get a hold of it, they can use DNA from that cup in the case without ever getting a warrant. So if someone gives you a drink or snack at the police station, be wary because it may all be a ploy to get a DNA sample.
The Problem With Police Lies
Aside from the obvious ethical and constitutional questions that can arise from these types of falsehoods coming from a position of authority, these lies often result in false confessions. It makes sense. After all, if someone thinks that their DNA is linked to a crime and their confession can help result in a reduced sentence, they are likely to admit guilt despite their innocence. Similarly, some people will do anything to protect someone they care about, even if it means sacrificing themselves in the process by falsely admitting their guilt. Psychologists have shown that certain personality types are prone to agree to police claims even if untrue. Prolonged questioned over hours or days can also weaken people into making false confessions.
False confessions don’t just harm the person who makes them, it also means the person who actually committed the crime is less likely to get caught, possibly putting the public in danger if he goes on to commit more crimes.
This is why so many criminal justice reform groups want to prevent this tactic by police and either fully stop the practice of police lying or at least reduce the number of situations in which they can give false information to suspects. If you have any questions about how police can lie to suspects or feel your rights were violated by something the police said to you during an interrogation, call San Diego criminal attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons Image by Dave Conner