4 Common Questions & 4 Tricks Police are Allowed to Use Deception

The average person assumes that the police have at their use a wide range of “tricks” or arms of deception to get a suspect to confess to a crime he or she has committed or some other important knowledge. But what exactly is allowable? What, if any, tricks are out of bounds? Learn five tricks that law enforcement officials are allowed to use during interrogation and interviews and the why behind them.

Here are some common questions that you might be wondering when it comes to police “tricks” and what they are allowed to do in order to get a criminal to “reveal” him or herself.

4 Common Questions about What Police Can Do

1. What can police tell suspects to “trick” or prompt them into confessing?

2. Can a police officer misrepresent the strength of the case against the suspect?

3. Can an interrogating officer or investigator disguise their identity during an interrogation and pretend to be a family member or friend or figure that the suspect respects?

4. Can an officer lie about the nature of incriminating evidence?

In a piece written by Miller W. Shealy, Jr, titled The Hunting of Man: Lies, Damn Lies, and Police Interrogations, Shealy identifies constraints that police and investigators must abide by. To read the full piece, click here.

4 Things Informing What Police & Investigators Can Do

  1. On the Supreme Courts Overarching Position: The Supreme Court has routinely and consistently upheld the use of deceptive police practices in the investigation of criminal suspects.
  2. On Outright Lying and Fraud: Law enforcement personnel may engage in fraud and even lie in the pursuit of legitimate enforcement objectives.
  3. On Going Undercover and Using Decoys: Police officers are allowed to go undercover in order to uncover criminal activity, specifically in cases involving violent crime, narcotics investigation, and organized criminal activity. (see Grimm v. United States, 156 U.S. 604, 610 (1895) and Andrews v. United States, 162 U.S. 420, 423 (1896).

Former Chief Justice Hughes commented as follows upon the use of official deception in      combating criminal activity:

“Artifice and stratagem may be employed to catch those engaged in criminal enterprises. . . . The appropriate object of this permitted activity, frequently essential to the enforcement of the law, is to reveal the criminal design; to expose the illicit traffic, the prohibited publication, the fraudulent use of the mails, the illegal conspiracy, or other offenses, and thus to disclose the would-be violators of the law.” Sorrells v. United States, 287 U.S. 435, 441-442 (1932).23

  1. On False Friends: The Supreme Court has considered police deception in falsely befriending potential criminal suspects with the goal of gaining their trust in order to betray them as acceptable. It does not violate the Fourth, Fifth, nor Sixth Amendments.

What other areas within the realm of police investigation pique your interest? If you are engaged in a line of work involving law enforcement, what role does audio and video recording equipment play in your day to day work?

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