Portrayals of the police on television and in movies can give the impression that police aren’t allowed to lie. It’s common to see fictional criminals asking if someone is an undercover cop before making an illegal deal with them as if undercover cops need to reveal their true identity when asked. Spoiler alert: undercover agents don’t need to admit that they’re cops. Here are some common ways that the police can lie to you.
As mentioned, undercover cops don’t need to admit that they’re officers. If you think about it, this rule would eliminate the whole practice of undercover operations, since criminals could simply require a statement from people denying their cop status before doing any deals. No, undercover police are not only allowed to lie, but they’re allowed to commit crimes under certain conditions. Sometimes they need to get approval from their superiors before engaging in criminal activity, but undercover agents have a degree of freedom to make that decision on their own in some situations, such as in order to maintain their cover or protect their safety or the lives of others.
The police can lie to you about having certain evidence, and they can lie about the confession of an accomplice. They’re even allowed to fabricate evidence to present to you, too, although they cannot report on their fake evidence, and prosecutors can’t use that fake evidence in court later. Their intention isn’t to plant evidence on an innocent person, but to get you to confess to a crime you actually committed, so their ruse is just a means to reach that goal.
The police can secretly record you and then lie about the fact that you’re being recorded. Don’t believe any cop who says your conversation is unrecorded and off the record. Then again, the recording of interrogations is a good thing because it makes it harder for the cops to lie about it later.
The police can ignore your request for a lawyer and try to distract you with other questions. Yes, you’re entitled to representation, and you have the right to remain silent. However, interrogators can pretend that they didn’t hear your request, and ask you a question to get you off track and talking.
The cops can lie about test results. If you got pulled over and took a roadside sobriety test or breathalyzer, the police can say you failed even if you didn’t, in an effort to get you to admit that you’ve been drinking. They can’t file a report or testify in court that you failed a test if you did, in fact, pass it, but they can certainly lie to you about it. Beyond that, are field sobriety tests mandatory? No, they’re not required by law. You can politely decline to take a field sobriety test, even while a cop lies and says you’re required to take it.
Police are allowed to use a wide range of trickery, especially during interrogations where the suspect has waived their right to a lawyer. The best advice in all cases, even if you’re innocent, is to remain silent until you talk to a lawyer, which is your right under the law.