Can police lie to citizens? In certain circumstances, yes. Most children grow up hearing that “honesty is the best policy”, but in the eyes of a federal appellate court, this maxim does not apply to law enforcement officers. If asked the question “Can police lie to citizens?’ most people would answer ‘No.’ Many people mistakenly presume that police are not allowed to lie or misrepresent facts when interacting with a suspect.
Unfortunately, the police can and often do use deception, such as falsely claiming to have compelling evidence against the suspect in order to induce a confession. The federal appeals court recently ruled that the police could even lie about the reason a vehicle was stopped.
The Question is, Can Police Lie to Citizens? One Court Has Set the Precedent
In U.S. v. Magallon-Lopez, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a search was legal, even if the arresting officers lied to the defendant about the basis for the stop. The officers told the defendant that the reason for the stop was failure to properly signal before changing lanes. This pretexual explanation hid that the stop was actually based on information obtained from a wiretap that the defendant did not know existed.
The officers lied about the reason for the stop to avoid arousing the defendant’s suspicion. A conversation was overheard by the officers which indicated two men in a white, black, or green car would be traveling through Bozeman, Mont. between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the day after the information was gathered.
How the Police Built Their Case
The officers contended the stop was legal because they were informed about the potential colors of the vehicle and a narrow time frame the vehicle would be traveling through Bozeman. The wiretap had also revealed that the two men in the car would be Hispanic. Additionally, the police knew that the vehicle would be registered to a person with a similar stature to one of the people in the car and to someone from the town where the crime occurred.
The defendant moved for suppression of evidence obtained during the search, but the trial court upheld the lawfulness of the search, leading to the defendant’s ultimate conviction.
On appeal, the court reasoned that the officer’s lie regarding the basis for the stop had no bearing on whether the stop was lawful. It did not violate Fourth Amendment protections, as long as the police had reasonable suspicion that the driver was engaged in criminal activity.
Further, the subjective thought processes of the officer did not impact the lawfulness of the search, as long as articulable evidence existed. The court’s standard for evaluating this evidence is an objective test that is not impacted by the officer’s subjective belief.
If you are concerned that your rights were violated during a police interrogation, the right attorney could help you fight back against the state. The attorneys of Gerald Miller have a track record of success when it comes to holding the police accountable for civil rights violations. We are prepared to advocate for your behalf under these challenging circumstances.
It’s Important to Know Your Rights in Minnesota
Can police lie to citizens? In certain circumstances, yes. This is just another example of why individuals pulled over or arrested should assert their rights to not to speak to the police or answer any questions until they have an attorney present. The police officer’s goal is to elicit incriminating statements that can be used to justify an arrest and/or conviction.
If the police ask for your consent to search, you should make it clear that you do not grant consent. Although this might not prevent the search, the lack of consent might later provide a basis to suppress evidence.
The bottom line is that you cannot rely on what the officers tell you because the law does not require their adherence to the old adage that “honesty is the best policy.”
One aggressive tactic that police will sometimes use goes beyond lying to a person during their interrogation. Often, the police will make reference to or imply that they have evidence that proves the accused is guilty even though they do not.
These aggressive tactics take different forms. Police could inform a suspect they have a witness that has identified them as the perpetrator. They could falsely claim to have found the defendant’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime or even identified their DNA. The police might even bring in a folder of paper as a prop to imply they have the results of the damning test in hand.
It is important to remember that deception during an interrogation might be allowed, but fabricating evidence used at trial may not. At some point, the state has an obligation to provide the defendant with the evidence they intend to use at trial. The state may not use any false statements or fabricated evidence to secure a guilty verdict at trial, even if they were able to use that deceit to provoke a confession.
One of the benefits of working with an experienced defense attorney is that they could review the circumstances of your interrogation or arrest and advise you on whether your rights are violated. Before you talk to the police, talk to the attorneys of Gerald Miller.
What Is Entrapment?
Not every form of deceit occurs in the interrogation room. In some cases, the police will set up elaborate sting operations in an effort to catch someone in the act of committing a crime.
The police generally have the right to go to these lengths in order to catch someone breaking the law. However, some police go too far. When that happens, the end result often involves the police coercing a person into committing a crime they would not have committed otherwise. Often, this coercion involves lies and threats of violence or other severe outcomes.
There is a fine line between what is legal and what is entrapment. This line is based largely on whether the police do more than provide someone with an opportunity to commit a crime. By merely giving a person an easy opportunity to do something illegal—even if the police lie to them along the way—entrapment does not occur. Entrapment happens when the police force or coerce a person to commit a crime they otherwise would not have.
For example, the police could set up a rendezvous with a sex worker while posing as an average citizen. While this involves lying, it is technically little more than providing that person with an opportunity to commit a crime. That individual has the choice to take that opportunity or not.
This scenario could quickly turn into an issue of entrapment if the police go beyond simply offering an opportunity to break the law. For example, the police putting extreme pressure on an individual to engage in prostitution when they otherwise would not constitutes entrapment. Entrapment frequently results from the police using fraud or deceit to threaten or intimidate a person to commit a crime. Under these circumstances, it is not legal for the police to lie to you.
Entrapment is a valid defense for a criminal charge. While successful entrapment claims are uncommon, there are some offenses where this defense is common. Prostitution and solicitation are two of the most common examples.
The Police Can Lie to You, But a Criminal Defense Lawyer at Gerald Miller Will Not
The unfortunate reality is that in most cases the police can lie to you. This is certainly true during an interrogation, and it is a common tool used by police across the country. There are some limitations to this ability to lie, especially after criminal charges have been filed and a prosecution is moving forward. Another important example is entrapment, which occurs when the police lie in an effort to coerce a person into committing a crime they would not have committed otherwise.
If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Minnesota, we invite you to speak to a Twin Cities Criminal Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start protecting your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.
This article was originally published on June 3, 2016 and updated on September 6, 2021.