Author/APS Member: Saul Kassin
Most Americans don’t know this, but police officers in the United States are permitted by law to outright lie about evidence to suspects they interrogate in pursuit of a confession. Of all forms of subterfuge they deploy — like feigning sympathy and suggesting that a suspect’s confession might bring leniency — this one is particularly dangerous.
In Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the Supreme Court made it lawful for the police to present false evidence. “The victim’s blood was found on your pillow,” “You failed the polygraph,” “Your fingerprints were on the knife” and “Your friend said she wasn’t with you like you said” are some common but brazen lies told. There is almost no limit to the type or magnitude of deception permitted — one lie or many; small lies and whoppers; lies aimed at adults or anxious and unwary teenagers.
In the United States and elsewhere, confession evidence serves an important function in the administration of criminal justice. Yet the history of wrongful convictions points to countless innocent people induced to confess to crimes they did not commit.
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