I have always been fascinated by the statement that in the United States, police are allowed to lie to you about whatever they want in order to get a confession.

This statement is usually made to strongly recommend you invoke your right to silence and only talk to a lawyer.

Now, suppose a person being interrogated by police invokes his right to silence and counsel, requests a lawyer, and after a while somebody appears saying he is a lawyer, but in fact he is another police interrogator who will use the suspect's statements as evidence against them.

This seems obviously illegal, but that would mean that police can't really lie about anything they want. Does this mean that there are limits to what police can lie about?

  • Presumably police interrogators can't claim to be something other than police officers.
    – phoog
    Apr 14, 2016 at 7:28
  • Note that in principle the police officer can lie. If you are a drug dealer and ask a prospective customer "are you a police officer" then they can lie. But of course lying can be part of a crime. If the police officer lies "you have to pay $100 to be released" and puts the money in his pocket the lie would be part of fraud. Or if he lies "we've got your wife and we will cut her head off if you don't confess", no, that's illegal.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:10
  • @phoog You have the right to a lawyer, and through his lies the police officer denied you the right to a lawyer. You wouldn't confess to a crime while a genuine pizza delivery man is there because they could tell the police, so a police officer pretending to be a pizza delivery man may not be a problem.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:13
  • @gnasher729 fair enough, but I don't suppose any inculpatory statements obtained through subterfuge after the suspect invoked the right to silence would be admissible whether the police officer to whom they were made pretended to be a pizza delivery man or a lawyer.
    – phoog
    Nov 7, 2022 at 13:10

1 Answer 1


Are police required to contact a real lawyer if you ask? give opinions from a number of lawyers and police in different jurisdictions. The basic consensus is that in most jurisdictions, such behavior will get the case thrown out of court and often get the police officer who tried this fired.

HOWEVER there was a case where this was tried and while the case was thrown out on appeal, it was not as simple as the postings in the above article may have made it appear.

This story shows a case where the Tennessee police actually did this. While the lower court allowed it because the defendant was "gullible", the appeals court rejected this argument.

[T]he conduct of the law enforcement officers in this case, and in particular Detective Henry, is so egregious that it simply cannot go unchecked. That Detective Henry would illegally pose as an attorney and arrange the circumstances of the defendant’s case to make it appear as though he had successfully undertaken legal representation of the defendant is abhorrent. That the detective would specifically instruct the defendant not to communicate the relationship to his appointed counsel, in what we can only assume was an effort to enlarge the time for the detective to gain incriminating information from the defendant, renders completely reprehensible the state action in this case. Given the unconscionable behavior of the state actors in this case and the fact that the defendant was essentially prevented from proving prejudice through no fault of his own, we have no trouble concluding that the only appropriate remedy in this case is the dismissal of all the indictments.

  • 1
    Did they really argue that a defendant would lose their rights because they are stupid?
    – gnasher729
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:14
  • @gnasher729 It appears that they tried to do so. Looking at what the FBI has tried to do with Donald Trump, it seems that some people will try anything. Nov 8, 2022 at 14:20

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