Is evidence obtained under false pretences admissable in a criminal trial?

For example, imagine a policeman impersonates a computer technician to gain admittance to the suspect's home in order to "fix" the suspect's computer and in the course of doing this sees incriminating data.

Can the policeman testify in court against the suspect as to what he saw on the computer?

1 Answer 1


Yes and no. Using deception to get someone to open the door so that you can execute a warrant is okay (United States v. Contreras-Ceballos, 999 F.2d 432). Leading a criminal to believe that you are a crime-customer (e.g. for purposes of a drug sale) and not a police officer is okay (Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206), but must be limited to the purposes contemplated by the suspect and cannot turn into a general search. Lying about whether you have a warrant is not okay (Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, Hadley v. Williams, 368 F.3d 747), nor is it okay to lie about the scope of a warrant (United States v. Dichiarinte, 445 F.2d 126). Misrepresenting the true purpose of entry, even when the person is identified as a government agent, negates consent (US v. Bosse, 898 F. 2d 113; United States v. Phillips, 497 F.2d 1131; United States v. Tweel, 550 F.2d 297). However, there is no requirement to be fully forthright (US v. Briley, 726 F.2d 1301) so you can gain entry saying that you "have a matter to discuss with X" even when the intent is to arrest X.

In a case similar to what you describe, United States v. Wei Seng Phua, 100 F.Supp.3d 1040, FBI agents disrupted internet access and then posed as repairmen to gain access to the computer. Their efforts were wasted, as fruits of the poisonous tree.

  • 1
    That case was especially bad, since they first caused damaged, and then pretended to be repairmen coming to fix it. Would be interesting to know if in case of genuine damage (not caused by the police officers) pretending to be repair men would have been enough to throw out the case as well. Or if they asked a genuine repair man to report what he saw inside the house.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 21, 2016 at 9:05

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