We hear all the time about “good cop – bad cop” and the ways in which police officers trick various suspects into confessing their crimes. It may seem unconstitutional for police officers to lie – or even stretch the truth – in order to secure a confession, but for the most part, these tactics are legal.
Let’s say, for example, that Julie and Amanda have been arrested for shoplifting. They are taken to the police precinct and immediately placed in separate interrogation rooms. This is so they don’t have an opportunity to confer and to drum up a story together. Then, two police officers talk to Julie and Amanda separately.
The officer who talks to Amanda tells her that Julie has already spilled her guts, and has stated that Amanda is the one who committed the crime. Amanda is told that she should give her side of the story if she doesn’t want to take the full blame.
The other officer tells Julie the same thing about Amanda, and the officers watch as each girl implicates the other. In reality, neither girl ever confessed to begin with, but the officers tell them otherwise. This is a perfectly legal way to obtain a confession.
Another instance would be if Jeff was arrested for selling cocaine. The officer who questions him tells him that an eyewitness has already picked him out of a group of photos as the man who was selling cocaine on the street corner. Even though no such identification has taken place, Jeff’s confession is completely admissible.
There have been many articles and papers written about the constitutional rights of suspects, and how this type of trickery into confession should be illegal. It is not considered unconstitutional, however, because suspects have the right to refuse to answer questions posed by the police, and to have an attorney present. If Amanda, Julie or Jeff had requested an attorney, their counsel would have informed them not to fall for the officers’ lines of questioning.
If you are questioned by the police, and are taken into police custody, it is always best to keep your mouth shut rather than making a confession based on what the officers have told you. They might say that a confession will speed along the process, or that they can convict you based on what they already know, so it’s in your best interest to talk. Never listen. Instead, wait until your attorney is present, and then follow his or her advice as to what you should do.
Even though law enforcement’s practice of tricking suspects into confessions has been long-opposed, it probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. The best thing to do is to be careful what you say to police officers, and to always exercise your right to remain silent.