9 Dangerous Police Lies
If you’ve heard a police officer Mirandize a suspect (in life or on TV) you know the suspect has the right to remain silent. If you’re ever arrested, this is the first rule to remember. Invoke this right and keep your mouth shut.
The police will try many strategies from engaging you in polite, even sympathetic conversion to threats of dire (legal) consequences to get you to talk. By law, they can’t compel you to incriminate yourself, though we all know officers have violated the law. But they’ll try to convince you that telling them what they want to know is your best option. And, even though the cops can’t force you to make any statements that can be held against you in court, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that police are allowed to lie. Yes, they can deliberately trick or deceive you to get you to spill the beans on yourself.
If you watch TV cop shows, you’ve seen this situation portrayed time and again. “Hey, your partner rolled on you,” they’ll say, even though the partner has been tight as a clam. Or “An eyewitness picked you out of a photo array,” even though the eyewitness can’t remember what they had for breakfast. But if you thought these ploys were just Hollywood theatrics, beware; it happens all the time in real-life interrogations.
To illustrate, here are the Nine Big Lies Police Tell:
- This test can only help you — If you’re pulled over and a cop suspects you’ve been drinking, he can ask you to take a roadside Breathalyzer test. He’ll frame the request as a chance to clear you of suspicion, but what the officer really wants is a reading that justifies arresting you for DUI. If the blow doesn’t work, he’ll ask you to walk the line. The test just makes the arrest quicker and easier.
- I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself — It’s not the cop’s job to help suspects; the job is to elicit information that will lead to a conviction.
- We already know what happened — If the cops really knew what happened, they wouldn’t need a confession. They might have bits and pieces of evidence, but they need to solidify their case with an admission. Remember, the standard in criminal court is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Maintaining silence allows doubt to linger; speaking up can remove all doubt and help them convict you.
- Now’s your chance to tell your side of the story — No, your chance comes when you are in court. The cop isn’t the judge or jury in your case, but the cop will be a hostile witness against you when you go to trial.
- We’ll tell the judge you cooperated — This might be superficially true. But the statement’s intent is to deceive you into thinking it actually matters. If you want concessions from the judge, hold your silence and give your attorney some leverage to bargain for those concessions.
- We’ve got enough evidence to convict — A cop may come into the interrogation with a thick folder with your name on it, claiming to have an open and shut case against you. This ruse is meant to intimidate, so you think the only way you can help yourself is to make a complete confession. Don’t fall for the prop.
All of these tricks are perfectly legal. But they won’t work if you assert your Fifth Amendment right and demand your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Once you’ve asked to see a lawyer, the police must break off questioning. Of course, they might still try to sweat you by slow-walking your request to see a lawyer, but if you’re patient, you can outlast them.
But what’s worse than the legal lies good cops tell in the performance of their duty are the illegal lies bad cops tell when they’ve broken the law. Cops who violate the law cover their trail with false reports of:
- Probable cause/ reasonable suspicion — Cops who make discriminatory stops of persons or vehicles concoct stories about the suspect’s behavior giving reason for the stop. It wasn’t racial profiling; the vehicle was moving erratically. Stop and frisk was justified, because the suspect was menacing passersby.
- Exceptions for warrantless entry or search — An officer who discovers evidence after an illegal search will fabricate a story that fits into one of the legal exceptions for a warrant. The officer can claim to have entered a home because of sounds of a struggle inside, or can claim that contraband was in plain view.
- Suspect resisted arrest or attacked the officer — The common defense to charges of police brutality is that a suspect either resisted arrest or attacked the officer. Fortunately, we live in an age of video, whether from security cameras or cellphones, that can tell the true story of a victim in custody, needlessly and brutally beaten.
The police hold themselves up as the defenders of the law, and we’ve been conditioned to place our trust in them. Then when we’re placed under intense emotional stress, we respond to that conditioning. But if you have been arrested—and more so if you are a victim of police brutality—the person you need to trust is not the cop, but the attorney who agrees to represent your interests.