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When investigating something that has already happened, can a US law enforcement officer say "x is perfectly legal" to get someone to confess to having done x (which is not actually legal and someone will be prosecuted for x if they (or a co-conspirator) confess to it).

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In general, police are allowed to lie. Certain statements are taken to be self-enforcing, for example "You are under arrest" means that you are under arrest, "Yes" in response to "Am I free to go" is taken to mean that you are free to go and therefore if you leave, they can't beat you for attempting to escape arrest.

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    I think you are covering entrapment. The question was whether an officers can trick a suspect to confessing to something that they had already done. – grovkin Jun 12 at 3:42
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    @grovkin what is it about this answer that limits it to entrapment? It says that officers are in general allowed to lie. That includes lies such as claiming to have incriminating evidence when they don't, which is a classic ruse to induce a confession. – phoog Jun 12 at 4:34
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    @phoog the last sentence gives an example of criminal behavior which is induced, rather than confessed, because of a lie. Inducing criminal behavior, by lying about its criminality, is classic entrapment. – grovkin Jun 12 at 23:38

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