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

I’m trying to remember which case. I remember noting it at the time as being outrageous. It was worse than that, the police (or more likely, the prosecutor) claimed the suspect lied to his lawyer, who then asserted to police about his client’s innocence and other details. IIRC the case, it was a Heil Mary because they didn’t have any other evidence, and the judge summarily dismissed that charge.

there was a similar case in Canada that went to our Supreme Court decades ago. Someone was murdered in a subway station in Toronto. The police brought in the wife and her boyfriend, and interrogated them separately. They presented the boyfriend with a confession signed by the wife saying he’d been the instigator, yada yada. He laughed in their face, told them they were full of something and lying. In the end there was no evidence, they let the pair go. He then sued the police for fraud and forgery, since they tried to pass off a forged signature of the wife. Supreme Court of the day said - no problem, police can lie in pursuit of an investigation.

The one thing they can’t do, which is hilarious on TV shows - they cannot make an immunity deal, only the prosecutor has that authority. So they will say things like “we can help you if you help us” or “you’re only making it worse for yourself.” All it really means is “help me wrap up this case and go home, but you ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

That’s a great typo in this context!

They can’t make an immunity deal, but can they say they can?

If there is, then they can’t run undercover ops to any degree, as lying, whether express or by implication, is part of undercover work.

“You a cop?”

“I cannot tell a lie. Yes, I’m a cop.”

End of undercover investigation.

All I can do is say in my state we can’t even hint at the possibility of making any kind of deal. We can’t make any promises at all. I nearly had a statement tossed because I told a guy when we were done he could call his kids. No coercion. I didn’t say he had to confess to talk to his kids. It wasn’t a lie. When we were done he talked to his kids. Just the promise was enough to cause a motion to suppress.

IANAL but my understanding is that the hint that the confession followed a promise of anything - lesser sentence, immunity, Club Fed, not being sent across country to jail, etc. - would imply the confession was not real, but was made and possibly false, to get that better deal. They prosecutor can offer that because they have the ability to deliver - subject, of course, to the caveat that it’s up to the judge to agree to any deals - but rarely do they toss the deal out. And presumably at that point, the defendant has a lawyer who can tell him whether the deal is good or not, or if there’s a loophole, whether they have enough evidence to make a deal necessary, etc.

Off the top of my head these were some of the things we were not allowed to lie about. This comes from a combination of Supreme Court precedent, State court precedent and instructions from the prosecutor based on local judge’s decisions. It covers more than what would technically be called “lies.” My state is probably one of the most restrictive. In other states some of this would probably not get a statement tossed.

As stated before, no deals or hints of deals. Especially deals including leniency. Only the prosecutor can make a deal. We can say we will speak to the prosecutor but only with clear statements that we can promise nothing.

We can’t use props to support a lie. We could say we have surveillance video but we can’t hold up a blank DVD and say the video is on there. Yes I have never understood that either.

We can’t manufacture fake evidence to show a suspect like the case that was mentioned above.

We can not minimize the right to have a lawyer present. We can’t hint that he would be better off without a lawyer. We can do nothing to say he shouldn’t ask for a lawyer. I saw a very important confession tossed because the suspect mentioned a lawyer but did not ask for one nor was he talked out of getting one. The judge said he should have been re-Mirandized. That’s ridiculous and without higher court precedent but it happened.

We can’t make promises on religious grounds like using their religious beliefs to get a confession. “I know you believe in hell. That’s where you are going if you don’t confess” would not fly.

We can’t pretend to be someone else. That doesn’t mean while undercover. In a custodial situation when Miranda is in effect the investigator can’t pretend to be a priest or shrink or shaman.

No pocket warrants. That means we can’t keep the fact that there is a warrant out for the suspect from him during questioning. He can’t be under the mistaken thought he is free to go once the interview is over.

If the suspect is being charged he has to be informed of all of the specific charges at the beginning of questioning. We can’t say “You are being charged with littering” and then at the end of questioning say “…and murder!”

I probably forgot a couple.

The interesting aspect of that is that someone who committed the crime is more likely to know you are lying than someone who is innocent.

Absolutely. And as soon as they know you are full of shit you blow any chance of getting any information. Unlike TV you have to assume you will only get one shot at talking to someone.

There are some very specific exceptional cases where they can lie. But as a general rule of thumb, in most cases where lying is a problem, the real problem is the crime or tort that it leads to.

i.e. “No you can’t speak to your attorney right now.” The problem isn’t the lie, the problem is violating a person’s right to counsel.

i.e. “Hold this bag of sugar for a minute. Oops, I lied, you’re actually holding a bag of cocaine, and you’re under arrest for possesssion.” The problem is not the lie, the problem is entrapment.

A police interrogator may not lie in a way that would make an innocent person confess.

OK “That person you raped has a dreaded disease. If you confess we will take you to the clinic to get you treated.”**

Not OK “The family of the person you raped are outside the station. They have guns. If you do not confess we kick you out without protection.”

Didn’t see this above, may have missed it: some types of lie could presumably result in evidence being thrown out as “fruit from the poisoned tree”.

I’ve read that in the U.K., cops are not allowed to lie as much. Not sure where the lines are; presumably the undercover cop can still lie, or there wouldn’t be any. (Crime kingpin’s morning TODO list: Ask all flunkies “Are you a peeler?”)

Well, obviously, any policy would be a lot more detailed than just one line saying “No lying, ever!”. And I would expect that, even if a department did have a policy against lying, the details would carve out exceptions for things like undercover investigations.

@Loach, what about “If you tell us everything, we’ll tell the DA that you cooperated with us, and suggest to him that he go easy on you”?

That’s not really a lie though is it? No guarantees are made regarding the DA. Just a promise that the police will make some non-binding statements to the DA. It does exploit the fact that suspects may not be well-informed about the process, but I wouldn’t say it’s an outright lie.

Not a lie, but responding to Loach’s earlier comments about the restrictions on offering any benefit to a detainee in exchange for a confession.

There’s a similar “confessions rule” in Canada: the police cannot offer a benefit to obtain a confession. It’s based on the English “Judges’ rules” from the early 20th century.

And how about if it comes from the suspect?

“Listen, if I tell you everything, will you ask the DA to go easy on me? I’m depending on your scrupulous honesty, now, but I’m dying to give you information if it will make the DA go easy on me. Can you promise me that you’ll do everything you possibly can to get him to give me a great deal? If not, I’ll just want to see a lawyer now.”

Where’s the lie? To tell someone “I will do my best” is so ill-defined that I’d have trouble characterizing it as a lie, and it’s doubtful it could be proved a lie in court.

Even if proved a lie, I think it would fall under the permissible category because it’s not coercive. Suspects are advised of their rights. If they decide to waive them for a roll of the dice on the word of a cop, that’s on them.

In Canada, if the police acted in that and gave that promise to get the suspect to talk, it would likely be a breach of the confessions rule. The police can’t offer a benefit in exchange for the detainee talking.

Again, not a lie, but it is a restriction on police conduct in dealing with detainees. A bit off-topic for the thread.

True. This is the example I usually give in this sort of discussion, though, because I’ve found that some people think that police lying is inherently immoral and should be illegal. This example shows how context-specific police conduct can be, and how imposing that sort of moral judgment would simply not work in the real world of policing.

The times that a cop is allowed to misrepresent the truth should be narrow and specific. If useful information can be gathered from undercover work, that would be one of them. If a cop is in uniform or otherwise openly acting in official capacity, then that should not.