Law enforcement is there to protect and serve the communities they work in, so the people expect officers to act responsibly and treat others with respect. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Officers occasionally use their authority to cause harm, which can even involve deceitful tactics. For example, a Virginia Beach, Virginia, police department used forged documents with fake DNA evidence on no less than five occasions between 2016 and 2020 while interrogating suspects.
During these sessions, officers manufactured evidence that places the accused at the crime scene. Their goal, which they achieved, was to get cooperation, confessions and convictions. They did this using forged documents with fake letterhead, documentation and made-up names for non-existent staff at the Department of Forensic Science. On at least one occasion, the false evidence was used for conviction in court.
Can they lie?
It depends upon the conversation or circumstances of the interrogation. It is constitutional at the state and federal level that they often do not need to speak the truth. Technically, the police department didn’t break the law, but it acknowledged that this dishonest behavior violates people’s trust.
The situation in Virginia led to an investigation by the state’s attorney general. “This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.
Fortunately, the department cooperated with the investigation, acknowledging that it was morally, if not legally, wrong and claimed to end the practice before the investigation ever started. Local reforms are currently to stop the deceit, but they are temporary.
Careful what you say
Officers do not need to people their Miranda Rights to start gathering evidence. Nevertheless, the officer can use anything said before the arrest as evidence if it was voluntarily offered. While there are many grey areas, officers violate our Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and due process if they lie after reading suspects’ Miranda rights. This information is involuntarily coerced, as is any information yielded with a threat of violence, any form of intimidation or denial of food or water.
This information is a potent reminder that those taken into custody should say very little before consulting with a criminal defense lawyer.