Can cops lie to you? The short answer is yes[i]. Law enforcement is generally allowed to lie to you in most situations. This includes police officers who are working undercover—sorry, that old myth that “if you ask someone if he is a police officer, he has to tell you,” just isn’t true. It also includes police officers in uniform. The fact that cops can lie to you is one reason why you should ALWAYS assert your 5th amendment right to remain silent whenever you are interacting with police.
One situation where cops may lie to you is when they are questioning multiple suspects at the same time. For example, if police stop three individuals (Persons A, B, and C) on the street for suspicion of bank robbery, one of the first things they are going to do is separate the suspects. Then, they will begin interrogating them. Police can legally tell Person A that Persons B and C already confessed, even if they haven’t. They may say something like “Person B and Person C already admitted to robbing that bank. They say you were there too. If you don’t confess, you are going to be in big trouble.” The cops may be telling Person B that Person A and Person C confessed. And so on and so forth. Never believe a police officer when they are questioning you. Besides asking for a lawyer, the only thing you should say to a police officer is “I want to remain silent.”
Police may lie to you about the evidence found at the scene. For example, one case in Washington D.C. held that police were allowed to tell a suspect that they found fingerprints at the scene and they matched his, even though in reality they found no fingerprints at the scene.[ii] In another case, an undercover police officer pretended to be an inmate at a prison and tricked his cellmate into confessing to a murder.[iii]
Another situation where cops may lie to you is regarding the severity of your punishment. Many of our clients are told “if you just tell us what happened, we will take it easy on you.” Or “just admit that you did it, and then you can go home.” These same clients are then shocked to find out it wasn’t true. There are situations where cooperating with the police may help your case but you should NEVER make that decision without involving a lawyer who can get the deal confirmed in writing and ensure your rights are protected.
You never know when police are telling the truth. Do not take a chance with your freedom. If you are contacted by the police, you should call one of the skilled criminal defense attorneys at Cheney Galluzzi & Howard, LLC. Life happens. We can help.
[i] Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731 (1969)
[ii] In re D.A.S., 391 A.2d 255 (D.C. App. 1978)
[iii] State v. Patton, 362 N.J. Super. (App. Div. 2003)