Myth #2: Cops Can’t Lie

For as long as we can remember, the word on the street has always been that cops cannot lie.  So if you’re doing a drug deal with an undercover cop, and you ask him point blank if he’s a police officer, then he has to tell you the truth.  He might try to technically get out of it by saying yes in a sarcastic tone of voice, but he has to be able to testify later on that he did say he was a cop.

And for as long as we can remember, we thought that was dumber than dirt.  The first time we heard this, back in our dim and distant teens, we imagined something like this:

ruacop

It just made no sense.  And, of course, it’s simply not true.  No undercover cop is ever going to jeopardize his investigation or his safety by admitting to the fact that he (or she) is a cop.  And there is no rule anywhere that says they have to.

But even so, this myth has persisted.  We can’t count how many cases we’ve dealt with where the suspect asked an undercover if he was a cop, the undercover said no, and that was apparently good enough.  You’d think that, after suspects keep getting arrested anyway, word would get out that undercovers don’t have to admit the fact.  It seems like important information, something that would quickly become common knowledge among people who have a reason to care about such things. 

It’s not just lying about being a cop, by the way.  Cops are allowed to lie about anything.

Let’s repeat that: The police are allowed to lie to you… about anything.

The most common example of this is police interrogation.  The cops are allowed to use any deception they like, in order to get a confession. 

For example, they can tell you your partner’s being interrogated upstairs, and just confessed, so you’d better come clean if you know what’s good for you (when they haven’t even arrested your partner yet.)  They can say the victim told them you did it before she died (when she’s actually still alive, and never said anything of the sort).

The biggest lie (and one that works all the time) is that this conversation is strictly off the record.  “Just between you and me.”  Nothing you ever say to a police officer is ever off the record.  If it can be used against you, it will.

The second-biggest lie (also one that works all the time) is that, if you come clean, the officer will make sure you get treated leniently.  He’ll make sure the DA gives you a lighter charge.  He’ll put in a word with the judge to make sure you get off with a lighter sentence.  He’ll only arrest you for the misdemeanor.  Complete horseshit, of course — that cop’s going to make sure you go down for whatever it is you just confessed to — but it works all the time.  People cut their losses, seeing themselves in a hopeless situation, and grasp at the opportunity to at least minimize the bad.

Oh, and if you think innocent people don’t do that too, then you’ve got another think coming.  Innocent people do confess to crimes they didn’t commit, for a variety of reasons.  (That’s a subject for a whole nother myth.)  And lying cops is one of the big ones.

And the cops are completely within their rights to lie this way.  Unlike prosecutors and judges, who have professional ethics to comply with, the police are allowed to use whatever lawful tools they have in order to solve a crime.  It’s not against the law for them to lie.  They’re allowed to.

And so they will.  They’re trained to do it.  They’re supposed to do it.  They’re gonna do it.

You’ve been warned.

Tags: , , , ,

Get a Trackback link

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Undercover cops can't deny being police? on November 21, 2012

9 Comments

  1. SK (via Facebook), June 18, 2010:

    If only more criminals watched Law & Order, they’d have this one down cold

  2. JosephSHaas at hotmaildotcom, March 15, 2011:

    So as it is written that: “the police are allowed to use whatever lawful tools they have in order to solve a crime.” as by lieing, then what about when there is no crime, of just them lieing to someone such as a state resident in order to get some Fed buddy of theirs into possession of the owner’s building for to take over on a tax never declared a debt! JSH, trying to get a City Code of Ethics for the Police there in Lebanon, N.H. on the Ed Brown case.

  3. Ian, May 25, 2011:

    You clearly don’t know the difference between intrinsic misrepresentations and extrinsic misrepresentations. A cop can most certainly not lie about anything to get a confession. Specifically saying they can grant special consideration if the perp comes clean. I hope you’re not actually a criminal lawyer.

  4. Nathan, May 25, 2011:

    Ian, are you in America? ‘Cause here they most certainly can and do make false promises of special consideration.

    The intrinsic/extrinsic distinction has to do with whether the police are actually coercing you with their misrepresentation. The police are not allowed to extract a confession by overriding your free will, so they cannot beat it out of you, extort it out of you, or coerce you with false threats (like “if you don’t confess, your whole family is going to be deported”).

  5. Ambassador, November 16, 2011:

    Nathan, police officers are restricted from lying about many things, especially if those things are related to legal issues. They cannot lie about a statute or law. Your article makes it seem that cops can legally lie about anything they want. That is certainly not the case. In fact, your statement that “cops are allowed to lie about anything” is in itself an extrinsic misrepresentation.

  6. Nathan, November 16, 2011:

    Like Ian before you, you’re confusing “extrinsic” misrepresentations that might get a confession suppressed later on, with an actual prohibition against lying.

    The police are not prohibited from lying, but if a misrepresentation happens to be so coercive as to make a confession involuntary then the confession itself may be suppressed after a hearing, right before trial.

  7. dave, November 7, 2012:

    What does a cop, a lawyer and a carpet have in common? All lie before you.

  8. JimFestivarian, May 15, 2014:

    I’m in NE PA can you please provide the statute, title and or code…or legal precedent that allows police to lie? I’ve had the discussion with others and have never been able to find where it is written!

  9. scott, July 23, 2014:

    JimFestivarian, I don’t mean to sound rude or arrogant, but perhaps police are allowed to lie because there is no law, statute or precedent stating they are not allowed to lie?

Leave a comment