Should Investigators Be Allowed To Lie About Evidence To A Subject During Interrogation?

The following is an excerpt from an article that appears on .

The state of New York is considering legislation that would prohibit investigators from lying to a subject about evidence in the case, such as indicating to the subject during the interrogation that there is a DNA match with samples taken from the victim; that there is a witness who says that they saw the subject commit the crime; that the subject’s finger prints were found at the scene of the crime; or that an accomplice made an incriminating statement implicating the subject in the commission of the crime. Let’s examine what the courts say about investigators lying about evidence, whether or not lying about evidence is likely to cause a false confession, and what we teach about the use of deception during an interrogation.

In order to ensure that an interrogation was properly conducted and that the subsequent confession was voluntarily obtained, investigators should employ techniques that 1) ensure the subject’s rights were not violated; 2) avoid force, the threat of force, or the threat of inevitable consequences; 3) avoid promises of leniency; and, 4) conduct the interrogation within the guidelines that have been established by the courts.

In 1969 the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of misrepresenting evidence to the subject. The case was Frazier v.Cupp (394 U.S. 731). In that case the Supreme Court upheld the admissibility of the defendant’s confession, which was the result of the police falsely telling the subject that his accomplice had confessed. The Court held that the misrepresentations were relevant, but that they did not make an otherwise voluntary confession inadmissible. In reaching this conclusion, the Court judged the materiality of the misrepresentation by viewing the “the totality of circumstances.”

It is important to highlight the Court’s reference to an “otherwise voluntary confession,” the clear implication being that if the subject’s rights were honored; if there were no threats of harm or inevitable consequences; if there were no promises of leniency; and if the investigator followed the guidelines established by the courts, then misrepresenting evidence, in and of itself, will not jeopardize the admissibility of the confession.

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