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Deception by Police

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Ethics Volume: 1 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer/Fall 1982) Pages: 40-54
J H Skolnick
Date Published
15 pages
Judicial permission for the police to use deceptive practices in investigations (undercover work, 'sting' operations, etc.) often carries over into the interrogation and testimony phases of the police development of a case, as police become accustomed to the use of deception to gain the conviction of a defendant they consider guilty.
Detecting is a process that moves from investigation, often through interrogation, and then to police testimony in court. Police are offered considerable latitude by the courts during the investigation stage. This includes the use of informants, court-approved wiretapping, and undercover work. This latitude to deceive carries over into the interrogation and testimonial stages as a subculturally supported norm among officers. While physical coercion (beatings, torture, etc.) is clearly prohibited by the courts in police interrogations, psychological intimidation and various forms of deception are permitted once a suspect has consented to be interrogated, provided any information provided by the suspect appears to be voluntary. The polygraph, which is being increasingly used by the police, is not a purely objective test of the truth of a person's statements, but it is often used by the police as though it were; by such deception, it is used as a social control mechanism. While deception in courtroom testimony is clearly perjury, the mindset of police officers does not easily shift from the investigative and interrogation phases. Deceptions in testimony so as to convict a defendant deemed by officer witnesses to be guilty is not uncommon, when officers believe that accurate testimony might increase the chances of an acquittal. Fifty-six notes are provided.