As criminal defense lawyers, we constantly have to battle against popular myths about what the police can and cannot do. One of the most common misconceptions we hear from our clients who face criminal charges has to do with whether the police can lie to you. So, let’s get that cleared up right away.
In California, the police are allowed to lie to you in the course of investigating crimes, including when interrogating you as a criminal suspect. However, there are limits to police lying, too. Law enforcement may not use lies to produce a false confession or coerce someone into waiving a constitutional right. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
Deception Is a Common Tool of Police Work
If you stop to think about it, the misconception that police can’t lie makes little sense. We’re all familiar with the fact that some police operate undercover, for example, which is a form of deception. It should come as no surprise that police can lie in other contexts, too.
In California, courts have long held that police can use deception—lying—to trick someone into confessing to a crime. In that context, they can lie about (for example):
- The reason for wanting to question a suspect
- The evidence they have, or don’t have, in their possession
- The results of DNA tests and other forensic analyses
- What witnesses have said about the suspect or crime being investigated
- Confessions they have obtained from other suspects
- Their personal views of the suspect or the crime at issue
This is only a partial list. Police lie in interrogations and other settings all the time, and for the most part, it’s perfectly legal. That’s why, after being arrested, you should always remain silent and contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.
The Instances in Which Police Are Not Allowed to Lie
Not all lies that police tell to suspects in California are allowed, however. California law prohibits law enforcement officials from telling lies that induce a false confession or trick a suspect into giving up constitutional rights.
Police Cannot Tell Lies That Are Likely to Produce a False Confession
Suppose you have been arrested off the street and charged with an armed robbery you didn’t do. The police take you to the station, put you in an interview room, and start grilling you about your whereabouts, associates, and past activities. You insist you had nothing to do with the robbery, but they don’t believe you, so they start telling lies to get you to confess.
As we’ve said, some of those lies are legal. An investigator might be allowed to claim, for example, that his partner has already interviewed another suspect who identified you as a planner of the robbery, even though you know that’s not true. It might also be okay for the investigator to lie about an innocent victim having been critically injured in the robbery and the potential consequences that you would face if that victim dies.
However, the investigator’s lies can also go too far. Suppose you continue to insist you had nothing to do with the robbery. The investigator might violate your rights if he begins telling lies designed to overcome your resistance by leaving you no choice but to confess to something you didn’t do, such as:
- Telling you that the only way for you to avoid punishment for the robbery is to confess
- Lying about his ability to charge your family or loved ones with a crime if you don’t confess
- Pretending that a court, judge, or other authority figure has already decided you are guilty, and that your confession is just a formality
As above, these are merely examples. Every lie the police tell takes place in a specific context that will affect how it influences you. Tell a criminal defense lawyer immediately about any lie you believe may have pressured you into confessing to something you didn’t do.
Police Cannot Trick You Into Giving Up Constitutional Rights
Law enforcement lying also crosses the line in California if it tricks you into waiving a constitutional right. We see this happen most often in two scenarios: consents to warrantless searches and waivers of the right to remain silent.
Article 1, Section 13 of the California Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution require the police to have a warrant to search your home, vehicle, or personal property in most cases. However, law enforcement can get around that requirement if you consent to a warrantless search, so long as your consent is voluntary. Police may not lie to you to coerce you into giving that consent, such as by pretending not to be the police or by lying about an emergency that requires you to give your consent.
The California and U.S. Constitutions also entitle you to remain silent in the face of police questioning. Police must advise you of your rights if they arrest you or take you into custody by giving you a Miranda Warning, and this includes the right to remain silent. So long as you stay silent in that situation, the police cannot lie to you to get you to start talking by, for example, telling you that your silence can be used against you in court as an admission of guilt.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney From Dod Law, APC Today
If you face criminal charges in California, remember that police can lie to you in the course of conducting their investigation. The most reliable defense against police lying is to be respectful, remain silent, and contact a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately.
Dod Law, APC, is an experienced criminal defense law firm serving clients throughout the greater San Diego region. We fight to protect our clients’ rights and freedoms in the face of state and federal criminal charges that threaten their livelihoods, families, and futures. If you or someone you love has been accused of, arrested for, or charged with a crime, contact us immediately for a free consultation. You can call us at (619) 814-5110 or fill out our contact form.