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Should Police Be Allowed to Lie to Suspects in Order to Get Them to Confess?

When a suspect lies to the police, prosecutors often exploit that fact in urging that the person is guilty. On the other hand, police are allowed to lie to suspects without consequence. Is that fair?

Many are troubled that police are allowed, even encouraged, to lie to suspects. We tried a case, a dozen years ago, where the detective admitted on the witness stand that she had lied to our young client as a tactic to get him to confess. Our client’s confession was allowed into evidence despite the detective’s dishonest tactics in interrogating our client.

In 1969, the US Supreme Court declared that police are permitted to lie to suspects as a tactic to gain a confession. This tactic is effective in manipulating a suspect who does not know his or her rights. As a result, detectives often twist and fabricate evidence to get their suspect to confess or make incriminating statements. Knowing how dishonest the police can be when questioning suspects, defense attorneys always counsel suspects to “lawyer up” and refuse to answer questions without their attorney present.

A startling number of citizens within the United States have been manipulated or deceived by law enforcement, resulting in them confessing to crimes that they did not commit. A popular myth holds that people do not confess when they are innocent. Experience sadly confirms, indeed, that innocent people do confess.

At long last, there is hope to finally impose limits on this unethical method of police work.

NY Senate Bill S324 will prohibit law enforcement from pressuring suspects to confess as a result of false evidence. Finally, there will be limits on the degree to which police can manipulate suspects into confessing. This legislation will call upon the court to determine the reliability of confession evidence before allowing it to be considered by the jury.

If this law is enacted, citizens will finally have greater assurance that there will be limits on the tactics which law enforcement is permitted to use. It can be hoped that this law will reduce the prevalence of false convictions. This law will be a step forward in giving the public greater confidence in the fairness of our legal system.

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