Training >> Browse Articles >> Investigations


The Use of Trickery and Deceit During Interrogation

During an interrogation, an investigator attempts to persuade a suspect to tell the truth, oftentimes to provide incriminating evidence that will be used in a subsequent prosecution. Further, interrogations are generally conducted in situations where there is insufficient evidence to assure a conviction and, in many cases, the suspect’s actual guilt may not be 100% certain. If an investigator was required to be completely truthful with a suspect, the interrogation would sound like this: “Joe, I am not sure you committed this crime and we do not have enough evidence to prosecute you for it. Therefore, I would like you to confess to me so that we can convict you and send you to prison.” Obviously, under this circumstance, no suspect would ever confess. Out of necessity, therefore, interrogation relies extensively on duplicity and pretense.

An Investigator may exaggerate his confidence in the suspect’s guilt, establish a misleading reason for the interrogation, such as needing to establish the circumstances that led up to the crime, display feelings of sympathy and compassion toward the suspect that are far from genuine, and, in some cases, falsely tell the suspect that evidence exists which links him to the crime. Trickery and deceit during an interrogation, therefore, occurs on a continuum. It is the latter extreme (lying to a suspect about evidence) that raises most questions.

In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a confession obtained by the use of trickery where a homicide suspect was falsely told that his accomplice had already confessed (Frazier v. Cupp). Since then, numerous other Federal and State courts have similarly upheld confessions obtained through the use of substantial deceit by the investigator. However, courts have also imposed limits on the use of trickery and deceit. For example, an investigator cannot use a tactic that would “shock the conscience of the community,” such as the investigator introducing himself as the suspect’s court appointed lawyer and obtaining a confession under the pretense of needing to know the truth to best defend the suspect. Similarly, a Federal court ruled that it is improper to manufacture fictitious evidence against the suspect and using the “evidence” during an interrogation. The general guideline is that false verbal assertions are permissible, e.g., “The crime lab identified your DNA on the victim” but creating false evidence (typing up a fictitious crime lab report) is not.1

Courts recognize that falsely telling a suspect that his fingerprints were found inside the victim’s home, for example, would not be apt to cause an innocent suspect to confess.2 A person of normal intelligence and mental capacity would certainly not place greater confidence in the investigator’s statement than his own knowledge that he was not in the victim’s home. The tactic of falsely telling a suspect that evidence links him to the crime scene has played an instrumental role in persuading many guilty suspects to confess who otherwise may not have done so. It is, however, a risky interrogation practice, and one that should be used with caution.

The inherent danger of lying to a suspect about the existence of fictitious evidence is when the suspect does not believe the investigator’s statement. Under this circumstance, the investigator’s credibility may be irreparably damaged. This is especially true when the suspect calls the investigator’s bluff and demands to see the evidence (as frequently happens with more street-wise suspects). Once the investigator loses the suspect’s trust, the suspect may dismiss the investigator’s apparent confidence in his guilt, question the investigator’s sympathetic demeanor, and challenge the entire pretense for the interrogation. In other words, the suspect may realize that the investigator is only interested in obtaining evidence to be used in an effort to punish him for his crime.

With this in mind, the following recommendation is offered: introduce fictitious evidence during an interrogation only as a last resort effort to stop persistent, but weak, denials or to maintain the attention of a suspect who exhibits clear signs of psychologically withdrawing. Certainly, presenting fictitious evidence against a suspect early during an interrogation should be avoided as it often results in unwanted denials.

Because of the previously mentioned hazard, only rarely does our staff out-right lie to a suspect about the existence of evidence linking him to the crime. Rather, they infer that such evidence exists. Examples of these statements include, “I wouldn’t be talking to you this way unless I had proof that you were with her that night!”, or, “I’ve seen the evidence and there’s no doubt you were inside that home!” Similarly, the investigator may simply state, “We know that she got into your car right outside the school yard and we know that you drove down University Avenue with her in your car!”

Central to each of these statements, is that the investigator does not identify the specific evidence that links the suspect to the crime scene, e.g., fingerprints, eye witnesses, DNA, etc. Rather, the specific form of evidence is left unsaid. This approach minimizes the inevitable challenge by the suspect of, “Who is your witness?”, or “Let me see that crime lab report.”

Another approach, that has a similar safeguard, is to refer to the evidence in the future tense. This was used successfully in a case where it was known that the perpetrator left a wad of gum at the crime scene. The investigator stated, “We recovered the gum and are in the process of having the saliva within the gum analyzed for DNA markers. We both know that when we get those results back it’s going to show that you were the person who chewed that gum and left it in the basket.”

In summary, investigators are legally granted wide latitude with respect to the use trickery and deceit during an interrogation. While out-right lies concerning the existence of evidence that links a suspect to a crime scene or victim can be very persuasive, there is always a risk that the statement may not be believed or that the suspect will insist on seeing proof of the evidence. Therefore, it is often advantageous to merely imply the existence of such evidence, or make reference to the fact that the evidence will shortly establish the suspect’s presence at the crime scene.

  • Photo_00002_max50


    about 4 years ago


    A lie is verbal deception done for personal gain. Operational deception and ruses are done to further a mission. If done skillfully, they can be quite effective. They are even permitted by the Geneva and Hague International Conventions on Land Warfare. Is there not a War on Crime ? LTC Tom Nugent

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    Reasons for going to law school should never be that someone wants to be a pretend lawyer, hired by a firm to be its lackey regardless of the predatory acts encourages by the soul-less-ness of business.

    Any attorney who works against law as a protection for people, not businesses, rightly deserves a malpractice suit based upon the scheme of law in principle, and loyalty to law, first and foremost, as the reason for its creation. It was not invented to aid business in making profits; it was invented to protect people from harm. All law (from a government perspective) is consumer law because the law is bound to serve no other. Government in democracies are invented for the people, by the people, and of the people.

    The rest is all fiction defended by those who find more advantage in being on the business side - to harm people, or exonerate business from harming people, than on the other side of public service by helping people.
    Life requires adults to choose - morality or immorality - to aid or become a menace to society. There is no in-between. That the philosophy has not yet caught up with the legal industry is no reason to imagine that it may not one day, the sooner the better.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    almost 8 years ago


    It works....It simply works. Great article! Oh yeah, it doesnt work always. Be careful when you bluff. The subject just may call you on it and then you are done!

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.

Recent Activity

safari created the group "inside out animation 3d movie", about 1 hour ago.
yauzqsin posted: "her death from", about 1 hour ago.
yauzqsin posted in: "her death from", about 1 hour ago.