It’s often assumed that police and other law enforcement authorities can’t lie to people who have been arrested or to others they suspect of committing a crime. We’ve seen our favorite TV cops do it, but that’s just dramatic license, right? Not necessarily.
The U.S. Supreme Court as well as lower courts throughout the country have upheld the “rights to deception” by the police in some situations. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled that officers can falsely tell a suspect that one of their cohorts confessed to the crime and implicated them.
Courts have also ruled that officers can lie to suspects about evidentiary matters. They can tell them they found their fingerprints or DNA or that they have video evidence of them at a crime scene. All of these things are done to try to pressure a suspect into a confession.
When can confessions be thrown out over police deceptions?
The one thing that authorities cannot legally lie about is a suspect’s rights. They can’t tell a suspect that if they confess to one crime, their statements won’t be used against them in another crime. They can’t tell them that they can’t have a lawyer present during questioning. If they do, a court will likely throw out any confession or statements that a suspect makes during the interrogation.
In some cases, courts have tossed out confessions made after what would generally be ruled allowable deception based on the totality of the interrogation. For example, a confession cannot legally be coerced through physical force or emotional duress. That can include a lengthy interrogation with no breaks. If the police tell a suspect they have evidence against them that they don’t while questioning them for hours, anything they say that’s self-incriminating may be ruled inadmissible.
People have been known to confess to crimes they didn’t commit because they were told that was the best option. Sometimes, they became so confused by the questioning that they weren’t thinking clearly.
What should you do if you were coerced into a confession?
It can be hard to know what’s allowed and what isn’t – particularly when you’re under the pressure of police questioning. That’s why it’s always best to insist on having an attorney present before answering any questions if you’re under arrest or told that you’re not free to go.
If you didn’t do that, you may still be able to protect yourself from the consequences of what you said. Tell your attorney precisely what happened. They may be able to show the court that a confession was coerced or obtained illegally. That could be the end of the case against you.