Written by: Christopher Yotz
The short answer is, yes. The police are legally allowed to be untruthful (with very few exceptions) in order to get someone to talk or otherwise give the police what they want.
Like many myths in the law, I blame Hollywood. The movies and television perpetuate so many false legal claims and false results that I’m astounded. But, they keep using these falsehoods and people begin to believe that they are true. Look at it this way; if an undercover officer always had to tell the truth to the “bad guys” then do you really think the concept of undercover officers would even exist?
As I often do, let’s take a DWI stop for example. Let’s say the police have stopped you for a traffic violation and they want to escalate the stop to investigate you for DWI. The officer typically asks if you’ve been drinking. Let’s say you tell the officer, no. Then the officer says, “come on, I can smell it on your breath.” Even if the officer couldn’t really smell the alcohol they can make factual claims to you about other evidence against you in order to get a confession.
Let’s take another example. Let’s say the police stop you for a traffic violation and the officer tells you he can smell marijuana and that if you just tell him where it is and let him search without getting a warrant then it will go easier for you. He can say this to you even if he can’t smell the marijuana.
In both of these examples the officer is trying to get you to confess to a crime by leading you to believe he already has the evidence against you. I’m always surprised how often this works. If an officer is trying to convince you that he has all the evidence he needs to arrest you then he must not. If he did, then you would already be under arrest rather than having a discussion about how easily the officer could arrest you.
Please also see my other blog post titled Should I answer questions from the police. As I said in that post, “You have a right to remain silent and you should use it.”