In the practice of law, it is amazing to see how often rumors and myths play into people’s perception of the law. One such rumor that is often repeated is that law enforcement cannot lie to potential suspects. I am not sure how this myth began, but often this misconception can have disastrous consequences for those accused of a crime. Perhaps it is the aura of authority or maybe it is something picked up from TV and movies, but most people believe everything law enforcement tells them. Under most circumstances this is a safe assumption, but if you find yourself accused of a crime your relationship with law enforcement may swiftly shift. Many are unaware of some common police tactics that are used to garner a confession. In a previous blog, we looked at some of the police tactics used to convict Brenden Dassey in the documentary, Making a Murderer. Now we will discuss the topic a little further as we explore the myths and underlying truths behind police interrogation tactics.
Fibs, Tricks & Other Police Tactics
When the police are investigating a crime they have a couple of key objectives. The first is to identify a suspect. After that has been accomplished, their goal is to garner a confession from that suspect. They will then use that confession against the suspect at trial in their efforts to win a conviction. There are a couple of key rules that the police must follow in this pursuit.
- Police must adhere to the constitutional rights of the suspect. For example, they need permission, a warrant or probable cause before searching a vehicle or residence.
- Police must advise a suspect of their Miranda rights when they are placed under arrest.
- Police cannot lie under oath in a court of law.
- Police cannot use violence or extreme coercion in order to obtain a confession.
Note that there is no rule that says that the police cannot lie to a suspect while they are questioning them. In fact, this is a really effective tool in the police tactics arsenal and it can trick innocent people into admitting to wrongdoing. This is really important, so listen closely… police are allowed to lie about anything. In fact, they are trained to use tricks and psychological police tactics to get confessions. These deceptions work; as you can see in the following examples.
The police can exaggerate the severity of the punishment or the amount evidence against a suspect in order to extract a confession. They can tell a suspect in an assault/robbery case that the victim died and that they are going to find DNA evidence to convict the suspect of murder. This deception can trip up the suspect into saying that the suspect was alive and barely hurt when they saw them last, in an attempt to clear themselves of a (fictitious) serious charge.
Even more often, police will act as an ally to the suspect, offering to talk off the record or saying it will stay just between “you and me.” Nothing that a suspect says to a law enforcement official is EVER off the record. These statements can, and will be used against the suspect in court.
Law enforcement officials can also dangle the promise of leniency to extract confessions. Often police officers will promise to put a good word in for the suspect with the prosecutor in exchange for “coming clean”. There are often two police tactics associated with this; the carrot and the stick so to speak. The carrot is the promise of lesser charges, something the police officer is not obligated to follow up on. The stick is even more frightening to suspects. Officers will often accuse suspects of lying and threaten greater punishments for not telling the truth, coercing suspects to trip over their words and admit to things in an effort to be truthful.
So what should you do if you find yourself being interrogated by the police? It is tempting to want to try to talk your way out of the situation, especially if the police officer seems like they are on your side. It is important in these moments to remember that the police are not on your side in this situation. There is one sentence and one sentence only that should pass your lips. That sentence is, “I am using my right to remain silent and my right to an attorney.”
The best option you have when you find yourself being interrogated by the police is to say nothing at all and to ask to speak to your attorney. This is the only foolproof way to ensure that the police cannot use interrogation tricks or psychological police tactics to get you to say something incriminating. Working through an attorney is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected in the process and you don’t find yourself admitting to anything that can be used against you. If you find yourself in a potentially tricky situation with law enforcement contact the Diemer Law Firm for help.