Houston Criminal Defense Blog

Police Deception during Criminal Investigations and Interrogations

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A common question that people have about their encounters with the police in Texas involves lying. It might surprise you that the lies they are concerned about are not those told by suspects, but it is the deception tactics police use during an investigation to get a person to give confession, reveal the whereabouts of evidence or otherwise cooperate with law enforcement.

Shocking the Conscience of Courts

As a general rule, police deception is an accepted part of the investigative process. However there are limitations on the types of conduct in which law enforcement agencies may engage when it comes to lying to a suspect or using deception during an investigation.

Conduct that shocks the conscience of the community or of the court is usually prohibited, but there that leaves a lot of room for a wide-array of practices. The fact is that courts will allow the police a great deal of latitude during an investigation.

For example, a police officer working on an undercover investigation is under no obligation to reveal his or her identity even if specifically asked, “Are you a police officer.” The officer may lie and answer in the negative without fear that a judge will find that such conduct was improper. A court ruling against such conduct would, according to the Supreme Court, make it impossible to conduct undercover operations without putting the police officer at risk of physical harm.

The Difference Between Lies and Creating Fake Documents

Courts are tolerant of deceptive police practices during interrogations provided the statement or confession is voluntarily given. When police engage in lies or deceptions during the interrogation process, the line between voluntary and coerced can become blurred.

Police lying to a suspect about finding his DNA at a crime scene is permitted, but showing the suspect a fake laboratory report that appears to show his or her DNA at a crime scene is not permitted. Courts take a different view of tactics in which police pretend to be holding or reading from a laboratory report that is, in fact, a blank piece of paper or anything other than a fake lab report. Under these circumstances, courts have allowed the deception.

The distinction appears to relate to a concern judges seem to have that fake documents, such as the laboratory report, could make their way into evidence during a case. Courts have also expressed a concern that such practices could undermine public confidence in the integrity of official documents. There is also a concern that an innocent person might feel compelled to confess to a crime he or she did not commit because of reading the fake report.

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

If a police officer promises a certain outcome of a case if the suspect cooperates by giving a statement, this conduct has been ruled to go beyond the realm of acceptable police conduct. Police also cannot make false statements about the law or about a suspect’s rights. Acceptable tricks that courts have allowed police to use include:

  • Falsely claiming to have obtained a suspect’s fingerprints from a crime scene
  • Falsely claiming that an accomplice gave a statement implicating the suspect
  • Knowingly failing to tell a suspect that an attorney retained by the suspect’s family was on her way to the police station and had told police not to question her client

A common deception engaged in by police officers to get an individual to give them an incriminating statement is to promise a lighter sentence or a reduction in the charges in exchange for the suspect’s cooperation. Courts have ruled against the police and thrown out confessions and other evidence obtained using this tactic.

Promises of leniency are viewed by judges as too likely to result in a false confession from an individual who sees no other way out of an unfamiliar and anxiety-filled situation. However, as with many of the deceptive tactics police use during an investigation, there might be circumstances under which a promise to speak to a prosecutor about a suspect’s cooperation might be acceptable if the officer actually follows through with the promise and does not guarantee an outcome.

Protecting Yourself Against Police Deception

The cold, hard truth is that when it comes solving crimes, deception and lying are key tools in the police investigation toolbox. How courts will react to a specific police practice varies according to the circumstances under which the tactic is used. Trying to outwit a trained police investigator is a dangerous game for anyone suspected of committing a crime to play.

Exercising your right to remain silent and speak to an attorney when confronted by police interrogation is the best way to avoid falling victim to police lies and deceptive practices. A Houston criminal defense attorney is a good source of legal advice and guidance before speaking to the police.


Contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner

If you’re under investigation or have been accused of a crime, you have the right to remain silent. Contact the the Law Office of Billy Skinner immediately. We will fight hard to protect your rights and freedom. Call 713-600-7777 or email today.

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Categories: Criminal Defense