What members of law enforcement are trained/allowed to lie, to whom, and to what extent?

Based on the often repeated “be careful talking to police, they are allowed to lie to you” advice, I have a few questions. I hope these questions are straight-forward enough to be suitable for this forum, and I know there may be regional/national differences in the details, but generally:

  • Can any member of law enforcement lie to people? Does the town dog catcher or meter maid have the same right to lie to someone as a homicide detective?
  • Does the lying/deception training come standard in basic training for all, or do LEOs get it as part of certain assignments/ranks? Is it a sleep-through-it course with automatic pass, or are there standards for actually knowing and doing it correctly?
  • Can only certain people be lied to, such as a suspect… or can anyone for any reason be lied to? Couple examples:
  1. Police looking for person A, can’t find him, so go to his house and his girlfriend answers the door/phone. Can they lie to her saying they can prove Person A did certain horrible things, they are about to arrest him, and she had better provide them a statement about Person A right now or she’ll be arrested too. (In reality they don’t have a clue whether Person A actually did anything at all).
  2. Police don’t like a certain local law… say open-carry. If a random person asks them “can I open-carry here”, are they free to lie and say “no, that’s illegal and you’ll be arrested on the spot if we see you doing that; no questions asked” ?
  • To what degree can lies be told…“No you can’t talk to a lawyer right now”, or “you’d better sign this confession because we’re authorized to execute uncooperative suspects in this jurisdiction” is obviously too far (I hope). But where is the line drawn?

I think in general your questions are going to come down to a bunch of murky court cases, but it’s worth pointing out that except for some pretty specific cases, lying to someone isn’t illegal. The dog catcher and the meter maid and you and I all have the same right to lie to people because freedom of speech does not require that speech be true.

If you’re on a court stand, then it’s perjury. If you’re misrepresenting things in order to gain things of value, then it’s fraud. There are probably some others, but other than that, lie away. It’s your right!

It’s less that police have a specific allowance for lying than that there aren’t rules that prevent them from doing so, just like there aren’t any rules that prevent most of us from doing so most of the time.

Hmmm, that’s actually a way of looking at it I hadn’t considered. I may have a bent perception of the issue. I have been thinking law enforcement had some special right/immunity for telling lies that everyone else doesn’t. I think a portion of my question is answered by it’s a bad idea to get caught lying when you’re the accused in legal matters rather than lying it’s self is specifically illegal.

I still am wondering about the differences in a suspect (potential civilian bad guy) lying to mislead an investigation = bad and leading to harsher overall consequences, vs LEO (assumed good guy) lying to catch assumed bad guy = good, taught in school, potentially rewarded, both in the same court case.

Maybe it is more of an IMHO question?

This seems like a very broad question. There is a difference between what one can say in court, during an interrogation or in general. There are teams of court cases devoted to limits and these vary from place to place. Much depends on the who, the why, the specifics and the circumstances.

In 1969 the SCOTUS ruled that it is permissible for police to lie when questioning citizens. Frazier v. Cupp - Wikipedia
Given the fact that qualified immunity protects LE from lying and even incompetence, your best choice is Never talk to police - Don't Talk to the Police - YouTube
Long and worth it.

One way of thinking about it is that there are often laws against lying to specific people or in specific circumstances. You can’t lie to juries or judges (perjury). You can’t lie to business partners or potential business partners (fraud). You can’t lie to cops (obstruction of justice). You can generally lie (legally) to random people you encounter, and most people cops talk to count as random people.

There are specific things that cops can’t lie about. If you ask “Am I free to go” and they say “no”, then that counts as putting you under arrest. There’s no “well, he was really free to go, but I lied to him” out for the cops. The cops also generally can’t legally lie in the above prohibited ways (perjury, fraud, obstruction), although enforcement can be challenging.

This question mostly has a factual answer as a matter of law, it’s just that the factual answer is “thousands upon thousands of pages of legal decisions”. If you want something that will meaningfully be answered in a FQ thread, you’re going to need to get fairly specific.

There have been cases (although I don’t have the cites at my fingertips) where a party lied to someone else, who in turn repeated that lie to the police. The prosecutor argued that the first person lied to the second person with the intention and expectation that would happen, and thus the first person was guilty to obstruction. IIRC that argument prevailed. Maybe I can find the cite if I can think of what to search for.

That’s correct. And in each state there are specific legal precedents, statutes and law enforcement guidelines that make it different throughout the country. SCOTUS caselaw sets the baseline and states can be more restrictive but not less. I know in many ways my state is very restrictive. There are things we can’t say at all or the entire interview will be tossed.

Beyond that its often a bad strategy. During interviews I’ve lied a handful of times over many years. You want the suspect to think you know everything. If you lie and he knows you’re lying because you got some aspect wrong that he knows about then you might as well end the interview right then. He can sit back knowing you got nothing. It doesn’t happen nearly as much as it does on TV. In many cases its just bad police work.

There must of course be a rule against lying to someone’s legal representative, but no one’s mentioned it yet in the exceptions.

To answer the OP directly about training its been a long time but I will attempt to answer as best as I remember.

I did not get any interview training in the academy. That is geared towards training the lowest level road officer. Various case law was taught and some of it may have been pertinent but interview technique was not specifically taught. Some departments may have training programs for detectives. For me they threw a gold badge at me and said “You’re a detective.” I did go to several classes through the years on interview techniques. In each case it was someone who talked about what worked best for them. Despite what those that get paid to teach the Reid Technique say there is no one way to interview people. Some are naturally better than others. As you do it more you find out what works better for you.

I’m not sure when it would come up. I’m sure its happened but never to me. On TV there is a lot of interaction between lawyers and cops. In real life for me its only been while on the stand or when they call on the phone and say “Don’t talk to my client.” There is never a lawyer storming in to stop an interview. They have lives and don’t get overtime. Almost all Interactions with defense lawyers will be with the prosecutor. In general cops and defense lawyers are cordial or better. Its not worth it to have any animosity. Both sides know the other is only doing their job. And they also know there is a good chance you’ll see each other again on another case.

Sure, but that’s a slightly different question.
“It’s not worth it” to do a lot of things that the law explicitly forbids.

I would wager that not only are police not allowed to lie about case details to a person’s legal representative, but they are probably obliged to disclose certain key information.
There may not be penalities for the cops if they don’t do this, but the case would probably be trash.

All a WAG, and I know you know a lot more about the law than I do, but it seems a pretty massive flaw in the legal system if this weren’t the case.

Police used fake DNA reports during interrogations, Virginia attorney general says (nbcnews.com)

Virginia Beach police used forged documents that linked people’s DNA to a crime to get them to confess or cooperate with investigators, Virginia’s outgoing attorney general announced Wednesday.

The city’s police department has changed its policy in the wake of the state’s probe, Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. In a separate statement, the city said it had ended the practice in May after conducting its own investigation, but called the tactic legal.

If I were on a jury and I found out that the police had done this, I would tend to heavily discount any resulting confession. Because it would make sense for someone to falsely confess if he believed that the police were going to present supposedly iron-clad evidence of his guilt anyway, and he may as well try to get the best out of it by “cooperating”.

The trick is, you wouldn’t find out about it till well after the trial, maybe years later. There may have not even been a trial, if the suspect confessed, falsely or not, due to the belief that the manufactured evidence would prove him guilty, even if he were not.

The question now is whether an appeals court would vacate a conviction based on a confession under these circumstances.

When I’m not on my phone I’ll have to look it up. I think that’s against case law. I know we couldn’t do it. It’s possible it’s state case law. I’ll check it out.

State v Patton may be the one I was thinking of but its not the only one. Its a 2003 case so I know there are other cases that cover it. In the decision it mentions a few other cases from other jurisdictions. I know I was told before 2003 that using a prop to lie would get any confession tossed. I was told you can say you have video but you can’t wave a blank DVD at them while saying it. In Patton it says you can’t manufacture fake evidence to get a confession.

State v. Patton, | New Jersey Law Journal

Here’s a good resource looking at what police can and cannot do when interrogating a suspect. Of course, different rules will apply in other situations, for example if the officer is testifying in court.

What can the police lie about while conducting an interrogation? - The Straight Dope

It’s from 2009, so things may have changed somewhat since then, but I think the basics are still accurate.

Summary: the police can lie in interrogations, but the lies cannot be “coercive”.

I would always trust what GFactor wrote on legal matters. I will try to think of some examples of what we aren’t allowed to lie about that aren’t covered in that article. Note that the article covers what I said earlier about lying often being a bad tactic. I found respect and honesty works better than lying.

In an article posted on the Web site Policelink.com, the interrogation training firm of John E. Reid & Associates points out that the risk of using intrinsic deception with a suspect is that the suspect might get wise and come to disbelieve the interrogator generally: “Once the investigator loses the suspect’s trust, the suspect may dismiss the investigator’s apparent confidence in his guilt, question the investigator’s sympathetic demeanor, and challenge the entire pretense for the interrogation. In other words, the suspect may realize that the investigator is only interested in obtaining evidence to be used in an effort to punish him for his crime.”

It’s also worth noting that a police officer’s right to lie might be limited not only by law, but by the policies of their department. I don’t know if there’s any police department out there that, as a matter of policy, prohibits their officers from lying to the public, but there could be.