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Police Interrogations Tactics and Tricks

Every day citizens have contact with police. The most common type of police contact occurs when the police initiate a traffic stop of a vehicle for an alleged moving violation of some sort. Citizens may also have police contact simply walking down the street—an officer may approach and want to ask questions. And in other cases the police are seeking out the citizen specifically regarding a criminal investigation. Regardless of how the police contact is initiate or where it occurs its is important for citizens to understand their rights with respect to police interactions. One of the primary functions of a police force is to identify criminal activity and gather evidence to support a criminal prosecution of those involved. Police officers are trained to use tactics designed to achieve their crime solving objectives that, while constitutional, are misleading and dishonest. This article discusses some of the tricks and tactics police commonly utilize and offers suggestions on how to avoid falling for them.

Cooperation will result in leniency

One tactic that police regularly use to get citizens to waive their rights is to advise the citizen that if they are honest and cooperative no criminal prosecution will be sought. This tactic is often used to convince citizens to make admissions or consent to searches. It is typically presented either as a veiled threat (bad cop) or as some sort of a promise of leniency (good cop.). Police will tell citizens that if they are honest and cooperative the office will “talk to the prosecutor” and ask for leniency or some other “deal.” The officer may also offer to “talk to the judge” and make sure the citizen gets a light sentence. The bad cop version of this tactic is threatening to “throw the book” at the citizen who does not cooperate. For example, a police officer may request to search a citizen’s vehicle and if the citizen does not consent the officer may say something like “well, that’s fine we’ll just get a warrant but if we find anything we’ll tell the prosecutor that you weren’t cooperative and you’ll suffer the consequences.”

This is always a trick or a lie. The police have very little control over what the prosecuting attorney does with any particular case. After the police have investigated the crime they will prepare a report and forward it to the prosecuting attorney’s office. The prosecuting attorney will review the report and determine what criminal charges, if any, are supported by the facts as reported by the police. In most cases, the prosecuting attorney doesn’t even speak with the investigating officer before the charges are filed—he or she simply reads the report and makes a charging decision based on the written report. Rest assured, if you allow the police to search your car or home or if you admit to committing a crime the prosecuting attorney will use whatever evidence they obtain from you to convict you of a crime. Likewise, the police have no influence or control over what sentence a judge may impose. In fact, it is not permissible for a judge to speak to a police officer about a case pending before him.

There is nothing to gain by making admissions to the police or consenting to a search and you have everything to lose. It is important to act respectfully towards the police and follow any orders you are given but this does not mean giving up your constitutional rights. While I have never seen a criminal defendant benefit from some sort of “promise” of leniency made by a police office, I have seen prosecutors refuse to make deals with criminal defendants who treat police disrespectfully or fight with police.

We can’t help you if you don’t help us

This tactic has some similarities to the one discuss above but is a bit different. This tactic is frequently employed in situations where a citizen may have other criminal charges already pending or is accused of a crime allegedly committed by multiple persons. This is a version of the good cop routine where the police officer expresses a desire to help the citizen with their legal problems. This offer of help is often accompanied by statements like “I know you aren’t a bad guy—even good people make mistakes” or similar statements that are intended to make the citizen believe the officer empathizes with the citizens situation. The offers of help and expressions of empathy are always followed with some sort of request that the civilian “help” the police. In almost all cases, the “help” that the police are referring to includes giving up 4th and 5th amendment constitutional rights. For example, a police officer may “really want to help” a citizen with an upcoming sentencing but “can’t do anything” unless the citizen makes some sort of admission that could be used against him. This tactic is often accompanied by some sort of bad cop routine that involves threats of harsher treatment for failure to cooperate or help the police.

We know you did it we just want to understand why

This is a common police bluff tactic. This tactic is often employed in criminal investigations of more serious crimes where the police have a suspect in custody and are conducting an interview. Typically, the police detective will tell the suspect that he already has “more than enough evidence” for a conviction but wants to give the suspect “an opportunity to tell his side of the story.” This tactic frequently includes false or misleading statements by police that they have certain evidence against the citizen. For example, the police may lie and say that they have three witnesses who will testify that the citizen is guilty (these are often potential co-defendants.). The police may also say that they have DNA, photo or video evidence which they do not have. I was recently involved in an arson case where a detective told a 17 year old kid that he had a satellite image of the young kid entering the home that was burned. The police can tell whatever lies they want and it is not unconstitutional. This tactic also often includes some sort of promise by the police that the citizen will benefit by telling his side of the story (otherwise known as making a full confession.). The suggested benefit is often that the prosecutor and/or judge will be lenient on the citizen if he is cooperative or has some explanation for his behavior. This is always a trick—the police don’t care why a citizen committed a crime—the police just want a confession.

You’re a good guy and we want to give you the first opportunity

to make a deal

This tactic is a favorite of mine and is employed by police in cases that involve multiple suspects. The suspects are separated and interviewed separately. The suspect being interviewed is told by the police that they know he is a good guy, wouldn’t normally do something like this and that the crime wasn’t his idea or that he is somehow otherwise not principally responsible. The suspect is usually told that the other suspects are also being interviewed and because they believe he is the least culpable they want to give him first crack at a great deal. Whether expressed or implied, the message from the police is that there is only one deal to be given and the first suspect who cooperates will get the deal. What the suspects don’t know is that there probably isn’t a deal at all and each of the suspects is being told the same thing. Police regularly utilize this tactic to get citizens to testify against other suspects in the same crime.

Closing thoughts

This article isn’t intended to bash police or imply that cops are bad people who are out there just trying to trick innocent people. The purpose of this article is to simply make it clear that the job of the police is to identify criminal activity and gather evidence against a criminal suspect. When a police officer or detective is investigating a crime or even during routine contact with a citizen they are doing a job which requires them to gather evidence against citizens who may be committing crimes. The police aren’t out on the streets looking to make new friends.

Whenever you have police contact the best practice is to be polite and respectful but never agree to any searches and never agree to an interview or make any admissions. Politely decline any requests for consent to search and politely request a lawyer if you are questioned.

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime please contact me today for a free phone consultation.

Jeff` Moriarty