“It’s Time for Police to Stop Lying to Suspects”

This is the title a new article in the New York Times.

Most Americans don’t know this, but police officers in the United States are permitted by law to outright lie about evidence to suspects they interrogate in pursuit of a confession. Of all forms of subterfuge they deploy — like feigning sympathy and suggesting that a suspect’s confession might bring leniency — this one is particularly dangerous.

The articles recounts a long line of cases where factually innocent people “confessed” to crimes they didn’t commit.

Lying and trickery during an interrogation is not a necessary or even effective as a truth-finding device, although it might be effective to elicit a confession. Per the article,

In a recent survey of 87 Ph.D. confession experts worldwide, 94 percent endorsed as highly reliable the proposition that “presentations of false incriminating evidence during interrogation increase the risk that an innocent suspect would confess”; 100 percent agreed “misinformation about an event can alter a person’s memory for that event.”

Investigators in England do no lie and are prohibited by law. According to one detective in Britain,

Police in the UK don’t see interviewing as a secret process, and we don’t feel the need to hide interview techniques. The law does not allow lying to suspects, under any circumstances. Officers are trained to concentrate on probing a suspect’s account, seeking to confirm or negate by comparison with other known information. When the suspect knows that I can’t lie—my job is on the line if I do—I get more information.

It’s taken over a decade, but now I’m confident that you can come into my police force and any other police force in the UK and ask any officer “What is the point of an interview?” and they will not say “a confession.” That shift has caused a chain reaction in investigation because now investigators are looking for reliable information when they investigate. They’re not looking to find the likely suspect and turn the whole thing onto them. They’re looking to exclude all other options leaving the one. It doesn’t always work, but that is the approach.

One way to avoid this whole trap in the United States is to invoke your constitutional rights to remain silent. Be wary in the Interrogation Room: Don’t Talk to the Cops (It is what the Police Tell their Own Children.)