Know Your Rights: 10 Lies That Police Routinely Tell


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In order to investigate and gather information, police officers are legally permitted to use certain deceptive tactics during traffic stops, searches, or interrogations. These can include false or misleading statements such as “you’re being recorded,” actions like offering you a drink as a way to collect your DNA, or making you believe you’re guilty of a crime in order to force a confession or get you to cooperate. 

Here are 10 common types of misinformation police might use on civilians, plus how you should respond if confronted with these situations. 

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1. False Evidence Claims

In order to gather evidence and move a case forward, police officers might claim to have damning evidence against you that they do not actually possess. This evidence can include DNA like your fingerprints and hair samples, or surveillance footage that they claim link you to a crime. This tactic is typically done in order to coerce a confession or encourage cooperation on your part to identify other potential accomplices. 

What to do: Do not respond to these claims by trying to explain or justify your actions and whereabouts. Remain silent and request an attorney. It’s important not to be provoked into making any admissions or statements that could be used against you.

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2. Claiming a Search Warrant Is Coming

Police may say that a search warrant is on the way to pressure you into allowing a search. This is a trap. Remember: You have the right to see a warrant before allowing police into your property (this also includes your car). Without a warrant presented, you can lawfully refuse to consent to a search. A search warrant is a legal document authorized by a judge or magistrate that allows law enforcement to search a specific location and seize evidence relevant to an investigation.

What to do: Do not consent to a search without seeing a valid warrant. Ask to see the warrant once it arrives and verify its details. Until then, politely refuse any searches.

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3. Suggesting an Accomplice Has Confessed

Police could also say that someone else involved in the incident has already identified or implicated you, suggesting that your cooperation might lighten your punishment and/or potential sentence. They might also claim to have eyewitnesses who saw you commit the crime, even if no such witnesses exist. The strategy here is to create mistrust and panic by making you think that you need to defend yourself by talking.

What to do: Maintain your right to silence and don’t be swayed by unverified statements. Do not react or try to counteract the statement, and insist on having your lawyer present during any discussions with the police. 

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4. False Promises

An officer may offer leniency or a more favorable outcome in exchange for your cooperation or confession. But the reality is that police do not have the authority to offer legal deals; this is solely in the hands of prosecutors. So if a police officer is suggesting that he or she can influence judicial outcomes, including reduced charges or a specific plea agreement, do not believe them. 

What to do: Ignore such offers, do not sign or agree to anything (even if it’s a verbal agreement), and make all official communications through your lawyer. 

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5. Deceptive Sympathy

Sometimes police officers will act very sympathetic or supportive of your predicament. This is known as the “good cop” tactic — a strategy that plays on human psychology by creating a perceived ally in the stressful environment of an interrogation. The officer may suggest that confessing could result in lighter charges or more lenient treatment in order to leverage your desire for a positive outcome.

What to do: Be polite but reserved; avoid sharing details of the incident. When in doubt, avoid engaging in discussions or negotiations without your lawyer present. 

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6. Misrepresentation of Legal Rights

Officers might misinform you about legal procedures, such as overstating the charges you face or the evidence required to convict you. This tactic aims to manipulate your understanding of the law in order to encourage compliance. You might be misled about your legal rights, such as the implication that remaining silent could be held against you in a court of law, or at a later time. 

What to do: Always be aware of your true legal rights. You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Do not discuss your case until your attorney is present, regardless of what the police are saying. 

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7. Threats of Harsher Charges

Police might threaten you with more severe charges to intimidate you into cooperating. These can range from higher degrees of the same crime to additional charges that might not even be relevant to the case. For example, if you were initially questioned for a misdemeanor, an officer might suggest the possibility of felony charges should you refuse to talk. This tactic plays on the uncertainty and anxiety of facing the criminal justice system, especially for those unfamiliar with it.

What to do: Remember that only prosecutors can decide charges. Remain calm, do not let fear compel you to speak, and continue to ask for legal counsel. 

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8. Offering You Something To Drink

An officer may offer you a hot or cold drink during an interrogation under the guise of hospitality or concern for your wellbeing. While it may seem like a kind gesture, this can be a tactic to obtain your DNA without your explicit consent. By accepting the beverage and drinking it, you leave behind DNA evidence on the cup or can, which police can then legally use to compare against evidence from a crime scene.

What to do: Be cautious about accepting anything to eat or drink if you’re in a police station or being interrogated. If you do accept a beverage, be aware of the potential use of your DNA from this interaction. 

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9. Claiming You’re Being Recorded

Police might tell you that the interrogation is being recorded when it is not. This statement can be used to add pressure and make you believe that everything you say is being officially documented. However, if there is no actual recording, this tactic could be used to manipulate the situation by making you fearful of the officer’s demands and making you more likely to comply or confess. 

What to do: Always err on the side of caution regardless of whether the recording is real or not. Stick to the advice of keeping communication to a minimum and insist on getting legal representation as soon as possible. 

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10. Telling You They Can ‘Protect You’

In cases involving more dangerous criminals or larger criminal networks, an officer might suggest that cooperating with them can lead to protection from these other parties. This lie is used to exploit your fear for personal safety in exchange for your cooperation. But the reality is that law enforcement officials may not have the authority or the means to offer such deals. 

What to do: Always approach such claims with skepticism. If you feel that your safety is genuinely at risk, it is crucial to discuss this with your attorney, who can negotiate proper protection measures legally and formally with the proper authorities.

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