It’s a common misconception that “police officers aren’t allowed to lie.” Unfortunately, many suspects have learned the hard way that this widespread myth doesn’t always apply. It’s important to understand what officers are and aren’t allowed to say, so that you can better protect yourself against police misconduct and violations of your civil rights. In this blog post, our police brutality lawyers will explain the rules police officers have to follow when it comes to lying and telling the truth.
Many of the myths about police officers being prohibited from lying stem from a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of entrapment. Entrapment can occur in a wide variety of situations, but always involves two core factors:
Too often, this critical second component goes forgotten. If a suspect acts freely of his or her own volition under the false belief that an officer is, for example, a person interested in buying drugs, it cannot generally be said that the officer resorted to entrapment. In order for the entrapment defense to be utilized effectively, there must be some element of intimidation, harassment, threat-making, blackmail, or even positive flattery: in short, behavior calculated to induce the suspect to commit a crime, such as drug sales, they otherwise would not have participated in.
Under Pennsylvania law, in accordance with 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §313, a police officer commits entrapment when he or she “induces or encourages another person to engage in conduct constituting [a crime]” strictly “for the purpose of obtaining evidence of the commission of an offense.” This includes:
Entrapment is a valid affirmative defense to criminal charges where applicable, and in fact, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §313(b) further holds that “a person prosecuted for an offense shall be acquitted if he proves by a preponderance of evidence that his conduct occurred in response to an entrapment.”
However, an officer simply lying about his or her identity does not constitute entrapment, because there is no element of force, coercion, or other behaviors designed to foster criminal acts. This brings us to our next question…
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes, in some cases lying is permissible. For example, it’s become an especially stubborn myth that undercover cops have to disclose their status as an officer if the suspect asks. This is simply not true. No undercover officer would jeopardize his or her investigation in this manner. Asking if someone is an officer does not guarantee a truthful answer.
Moreover, in the 1969 case of Frazier v. Cupp, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police may be dishonest in order to obtain a confession. The Supreme Court stated the following in reference to Jerry Lee Rawls, the cousin of murder suspect Martin E. Frazier:
The fact that the police misrepresented the statements that Rawls had made is, while relevant, insufficient, in our view, to make this otherwise voluntary confession inadmissible.
In other words, the Supreme Court elected to disregard the fact that police officers lied to Frazier about his cousin’s statements. Frazier was ultimately convicted of murder.
Of course, police officers are not above the law, and there is an important exception to the legal use of deception. While officers may be dishonest (short of committing entrapment) in order to further a criminal investigation, lying under oath in court is an extremely serious crime known as perjury.
If a criminal conviction is based on tainted officer testimony, it is possible that the underlying case will be reexamined and even potentially dismissed. Attorney Lawrence Krasner of Krasner & Long recently demonstrated that six members of the Philadelphia Police Department — who later gave testimony resulting in convictions — were involved in theft, police brutality, and other violations of the law, causing Philadelphia DA Seth Williams to dismiss the cases.
If your legal rights were violated by the Philadelphia Police Department, or if you were injured by excessive force, our attorneys may be able to help. To set up a free and completely confidential case evaluation, call the law offices of Krasner & Long today at (215) 882-9752.