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Lies the Police Can Legally Tell You (And How to Respond)

by Brooke Kaufman
Despite some depictions in popular culture, the police can lie to you during questioning. Although there are limits to the lies police can tell, most officers will say anything to get a confession or some kind of incriminating information. Meredith Dietz, writing for Life Hacker, interviewed Phoenix criminal defense attorney Jack Litwak for advice on what you should do when the police lie.

If you’ve been arrested and are in police custody, you are protected by your Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, which must be explained to you prior to any custodial interrogation, i.e., read your Miranda rights. Those rights are: the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. The purpose of these rights is to protect against self-incrimination.

According to Litwak, officers are trained in the Reid technique, which has been known to prompt false confessions. The police may trick you into admitting you “might have” been somewhere, but if you remain silent, they have nothing to work with. Even disagreeing with an assertion could be dangerous. A confession could still be considered voluntary even if you relied on lies the police told you during an interrogation. Litwak’s law group concurred, writing: “courts will tolerate some form of police gamesmanship so long as the games do not overcome a suspect’s will and induce a confession not truly voluntary.”

Lies the police tell commonly involve the presence of nonexistent physical evidence or eyewitnesses; an accomplice already implicated you (and the interrogator wants you to have a chance to tell “your side of the story”); telling you to talk now while the interrogator can still “help you”—which they can’t and have no intention of doing; and a search warrant that’s “on its way.” In these situations, stay quiet, wait for an attorney, and don’t allow entry until you see concrete proof of the “current and active” search warrant. In fact, demanding your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney provides even greater protection than invoking your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, so if you have no intention of talking with the police, it’s advisable to expressly assert both constitutional rights.

Remember that the police have no role in sentencing, so don’t put any stock in promises to get you a deal at trial, which is a common tactic used to trick unsophisticated suspects into implicating, themselves and others, even falsely, in criminal activity. Litwak noted, however, that officers can’t do anything “overly coercive” such as lying about a suspect getting the death penalty. This a threat that goes beyond what are considered deceptive but legal forms of interrogation.

Ultimately, Litwak had this advice: “You have a right to shut up; use it.” Stay silent, and nothing can be used against you. The widely-held belief by law-abiding citizens that if you’re a suspect but are innocent and “have nothing to hide” there’s no harm or risk in talking with police is absolutely false.

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