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Should Police be Able to Lie to get a Confession?

Do you think it is acceptable for police to lie to defendants in order to secure a confession in a criminal case? Interestingly, there are two sides to this issue.

On one side are those who say that a guilty defendant should be arrested and convicted by any means available, and that if in the end the right person is charged, the ends justify the means. On the other hand, constitutional protections guarantee us a right against self-incrimination. This means that we have a right to remain silent and not to provide any evidence that can be used against us in a criminal case. Some people choose to waive this right and speak to police anyways, either because they are innocent and they believe that speaking to police is in their best interest, or because police wear them down with interrogation tactics.

In this second scenario, the line between acceptable interrogation and illegal interrogation is relatively thin. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled that police may lie during an interrogation. However, police may not coerce a defendant into confessing. Coercion generally means that police used aggressive tactics that wore down the person’s free will or ability to appreciate the consequences of their actions. This comes up often in cases of false confessions, where sleep deprived and frightened suspects lied to police in order to be released, believing that the truth would come out later and they would be free to go.

In two cases working their way through a state court appeals system right now, defendants were lied to about whether the victims of the alleged crimes were still alive. Police told both men that the victims were alive and that they needed information to help save their lives. In fact, both had already passed away.

What do you think – should police be allowed to lie in this way? Or does that clearly violate the constitution?

Source: ABA Journal, “When can cops lie to get a confession? New York’s top court considers the issue,” Debra Cassens Weiss, Jan. 16, 2014. 

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