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Is it legal for the police to lie to you during an interrogation?

Growing up, most of our parents, teachers and other role models told us not to lie. We try our best to be as honest as possible in our daily lives. But police officers in Kalamazoo and members of the Michigan State Police are not always honest with criminal suspects.

When interrogating a suspect or witness, police expect them to tell the truth. But many investigators use deception to trick the subject into confessing. Youths and mentally impaired people are especially vulnerable to this tactic. Often, after the police lie to them, the suspect “confesses” to a crime they did not commit.

Is it really legal for government law enforcement agents to tell you lies in order to get a confession out of you? Surprisingly, the answer, almost always, is yes.

Supreme Court okayed police dishonesty

In a 1969 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court found that it is legal for police officers to purposely make false claims to suspects during questioning. For example, police are allowed to tell you falsely that a friend who is also under suspicion has already confessed or that they have nonexistent physical evidence like your fingerprints supposedly lifted from a weapon used in the crime.

Why lies work

You might think you could resist dishonest police. But when confronted with these kinds of lies, anyone would feel pressured and scared. They might feel like they have to confess just to make the interrogation end, unable to think of the consequences of signing a false confession. Now imagine that the person subject to this treatment is 16 years old, does not speak English well, or is intellectually disabled. Vulnerable people like these are even more likely to give in.

Not only can a false confession put an innocent person in prison, with the wrong person behind bars, but the actual perpetrator also goes free. Unfortunately, this kind of double injustice happens regularly in the United States and erodes public trust in law enforcement.


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