Myth #2: Cops Can’t Lie

For as long as we can remember, the word on the street has always been that cops cannot lie.  So if you’re doing a drug deal with an undercover cop, and you ask him point blank if he’s a police officer, then he has to tell you the truth.  He might try to technically get out of it by saying yes in a sarcastic tone of voice, but he has to be able to testify later on that he did say he was a cop.

And for as long as we can remember, we thought that was dumber than dirt.  The first time we heard this, back in our dim and distant teens, we imagined something like this:


It just made no sense.  And, of course, it’s simply not true.  No undercover cop is ever going to jeopardize his investigation or his safety by admitting to the fact that he (or she) is a cop.  And there is no rule anywhere that says they have to.

But even so, this myth has persisted.  We can’t count how many cases we’ve dealt with where the suspect asked an undercover if he was a cop, the undercover said no, and that was apparently good enough.  You’d think that, after suspects keep getting arrested anyway, word would get out that undercovers don’t have to admit the fact.  It seems like important information, something that would quickly become common knowledge among people who have a reason to care about such things. 

It’s not just lying about being a cop, by the way.  Cops are allowed to lie about anything.

Let’s repeat that: The police are allowed to lie to you… about anything.

The most common example of this is police interrogation.  The cops are allowed to use any deception they like, in order to get a confession. 

For example, they can tell you your partner’s being interrogated upstairs, and just confessed, so you’d better come clean if you know what’s good for you (when they haven’t even arrested your partner yet.)  They can say the victim told them you did it before she died (when she’s actually still alive, and never said anything of the sort).

The biggest lie (and one that works all the time) is that this conversation is strictly off the record.  “Just between you and me.”  Nothing you ever say to a police officer is ever off the record.  If it can be used against you, it will.

The second-biggest lie (also one that works all the time) is that, if you come clean, the officer will make sure you get treated leniently.  He’ll make sure the DA gives you a lighter charge.  He’ll put in a word with the judge to make sure you get off with a lighter sentence.  He’ll only arrest you for the misdemeanor.  Complete horseshit, of course — that cop’s going to make sure you go down for whatever it is you just confessed to — but it works all the time.  People cut their losses, seeing themselves in a hopeless situation, and grasp at the opportunity to at least minimize the bad.

Oh, and if you think innocent people don’t do that too, then you’ve got another think coming.  Innocent people do confess to crimes they didn’t commit, for a variety of reasons.  (That’s a subject for a whole nother myth.)  And lying cops is one of the big ones.

And the cops are completely within their rights to lie this way.  Unlike prosecutors and judges, who have professional ethics to comply with, the police are allowed to use whatever lawful tools they have in order to solve a crime.  It’s not against the law for them to lie.  They’re allowed to.

And so they will.  They’re trained to do it.  They’re supposed to do it.  They’re gonna do it.

You’ve been warned.

You may also like...

19 Responses

  1. If only more criminals watched Law & Order, they’d have this one down cold

  2. So as it is written that: “the police are allowed to use whatever lawful tools they have in order to solve a crime.” as by lieing, then what about when there is no crime, of just them lieing to someone such as a state resident in order to get some Fed buddy of theirs into possession of the owner’s building for to take over on a tax never declared a debt! JSH, trying to get a City Code of Ethics for the Police there in Lebanon, N.H. on the Ed Brown case.

  3. Ian says:

    You clearly don’t know the difference between intrinsic misrepresentations and extrinsic misrepresentations. A cop can most certainly not lie about anything to get a confession. Specifically saying they can grant special consideration if the perp comes clean. I hope you’re not actually a criminal lawyer.

  4. Nathan says:

    Ian, are you in America? ‘Cause here they most certainly can and do make false promises of special consideration.

    The intrinsic/extrinsic distinction has to do with whether the police are actually coercing you with their misrepresentation. The police are not allowed to extract a confession by overriding your free will, so they cannot beat it out of you, extort it out of you, or coerce you with false threats (like “if you don’t confess, your whole family is going to be deported”).

  5. Ambassador says:

    Nathan, police officers are restricted from lying about many things, especially if those things are related to legal issues. They cannot lie about a statute or law. Your article makes it seem that cops can legally lie about anything they want. That is certainly not the case. In fact, your statement that “cops are allowed to lie about anything” is in itself an extrinsic misrepresentation.

  6. Nathan says:

    Like Ian before you, you’re confusing “extrinsic” misrepresentations that might get a confession suppressed later on, with an actual prohibition against lying.

    The police are not prohibited from lying, but if a misrepresentation happens to be so coercive as to make a confession involuntary then the confession itself may be suppressed after a hearing, right before trial.

  7. dave says:

    What does a cop, a lawyer and a carpet have in common? All lie before you.

  8. JimFestivarian says:

    I’m in NE PA can you please provide the statute, title and or code…or legal precedent that allows police to lie? I’ve had the discussion with others and have never been able to find where it is written!

  9. Don says:

    Nathan, you are saying what I’ve long heard, but I am interested in your answer to Jim (#8 above). My layman’s guess is that police can legally lie about anything which is not specifically forbidden to them by law, and that legislators almost everywhere forbid as little as possible in order to give police the widest latitude possible in talking to suspects and possible suspects. “The end justifies the means.” I was recently blown away by an online presentation by a professor of law at Regent Law School ( and the veteran police officer who spoke after him–and agreed with his warning: “Don’t Talk to the Police!” (

  10. scott says:

    JimFestivarian, I don’t mean to sound rude or arrogant, but perhaps police are allowed to lie because there is no law, statute or precedent stating they are not allowed to lie?

  11. Jesse says:

    Ahh.. It didnt occur to me until after my interrogation that he lied about having finger prints. I caught him in the lie though because The method of fingerprint matching he cited was illogical and left a lot of loopholes for inconclusive evidence.. I questioned the tactic almost with anger and said. “Oh.. well good I hope you do have a finger print because it wasn’t me.” He was a good guy though. It was a good tactic however I wouldn’t have left finger prints even if I did do it, so I would have known it was a lie either way.

  12. mark says:

    Yes cops are allowed to lie but not about anything. We lie about physical evidence. We cant say we found your fingerprints on the scene. Why did we? Thats illegal for us to do but we can imply we did such as asking a suspect so why would we find your fingers on the coffee table at the scene? We didnt say we did we are asking why we would if we did its a mind game. We are implying its your fingerprints to get you to tell whatever lie your gonna tell then if your finger prints are in there we do it again and usually get different responses. The truth never changes my friend but when your a criminal you make stuff up as you go in hopes to get outta it so everything you say constently changes

  13. Kelly says:

    so today I received a court hearing for my other half and the police lied about him doing so many things his on a good behaviour bond and what the freaking ussless cops wll get away wiyh it thanks

  14. Eric says:

    I don’t think there are any laws or statutes that clearly define all methods of interrogation that are lawful/unlawful. All courts seem to agree that coercion (physical or psychological) is grounds to suppress a confession. However, no courts or judges, at any level, seem to agree on a precise definition of coercion. In fact, there are many cases where different courts/judges through the appeal process had differing opinions on what constituted coercion. See Miller v. Fenton, 1986, for a good example. One court convicted him of murder, another overturned the conviction based on coercive interrogation techniques, another confirmed the conviction in a 4:3 split. And finally, the Supreme Court confirmed the conviction based on a technicality, without ever directly commenting on the methods used to obtain the confession. Even if the courts could agree on what is or is not submissible in terms of a confession, that still doesn’t speak to the legalities of it. So police will continue to lie, whether expressly or by implication, and it will be left to the courts to decide if the confession can be considered in trial. In most cases, you’re probably better off avoiding any statements that might incriminate you – unless you can work an agreeable deal, with the assistance of a criminal attorney, before you confess to anything.

  15. sue says:

    ok if there was a women our a men who slod there body . does a cop have tell them there a cop

  16. alannahhhh says:

    hi I was just wondering can a police officer in an interview lie to you and say a suspect (there name) said you did it. can they lie like that or is it illegal

    • Nathan says:

      They are allowed to lie to you, even to say that a witness says you did it.

      They are not allowed to lie to you if that lie basically forces you to confess against your will — such as by saying you’ll get the chair unless you confess, or by threatening to arrest your mom if you don’t. But simply saying a witness says you did it doesn’t force you to confess. You can say “she’s wrong.” The lie is mere deception, not duress.

      Whether police should be allowed to do this is another question.

  17. catherine cooper says:

    wake up sheeple! I know for a fact that cops lie, threaten and bully you for hours if need be, you are guilty in their eyes or you wouldn’t be there
    I have been there and it is frightening when some man is 2 inches from your face screaming at you that you did it…most cops are lying scum and bullies and the people of this country need to wake up! just look at of the poor soles forgotten in a living hell called prison for crimes they did not commit…I am one of those people who was convicted for a crime I did not commit because of prejudice and lies on the part of the cops and district attnys office.The system is flawed and people need to wake up

  1. November 21, 2012

    […] officers not have to tell the truth in their duties, they have the legal right to lie to people.…cops-cant-lie/ Reply With Quote « arrest lead to search warrant | – […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *