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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.

It’s Important to Know Your Rights

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.”

Get Help with Your Criminal Offense Charge

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.

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.


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