January 24, 2020 in Analysis
Criminal Law and Ethics

The use of deception by investigating officers is permissible and ethical as tricks and lie ensure a chance to police to investigate crimes and bring to light the truth. In other words, one of the primary and, at the same time, most significant objectives of investigative, interrogative, and, finally, testimonial processes in the sphere of criminal justice is to disclose the truth about the details of criminal acts. The given paper aims to shed light on importance of deception in investigative as well as interrogative and testimonial processes. Therefore, the essay examines the appropriateness and effectiveness of deception as one of the most reliable and ethical means for obtaining the truth.

Despite the fact that getting criminal offenders to confess in their misdoings and serious crimes is extremely problematic matter, deception has justified its irrefutable effectiveness as one of the most reliable methods of seeking the truth. Taking into consideration the definition of the term “deception”, it is rather important to note that deception denotes deliberate act of misleading with the primary purpose to reveal the truth. In the sphere of criminal justice deception is often associated with “white lies” that investigating officers use in the detecting processes.

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However, nowadays numerous researchers in the sphere of criminal justice disagree whether deception corresponds to the code of ethics and basic principles of morality. For instance, the proponents of deception in criminal justice claim that this process should be understood as the most preferred and efficient substitute for coercion. On the contrary, proponents of this police tactic state that deception should be limited to investigation stages because of numerous reasons. According to the results of statistics that involved participation of American and British police workers, civilians as well as police superiors support the increased productivity of different deception tactics. However, there are significant differences and misunderstandings in terms of types of situations in which deception serves as acceptable mean of getting truthful information. Many police agencies recommend to formulate a system of special high-quality and detailed guidelines that would control, guide, and regulate the use of various deception tactics in the sphere of criminal justice.

There are three basic stages or phases of police deception, including investigative, interrogative, and, finally, testimonial processes. Firstly, according to literature on the topic and research results, deception is considered to be the most appropriate tactic in police and courts at the stage of investigation. Secondly, deception has proved to be less appropriate in the process of interrogation. Finally, deception is, in most cases, unacceptable in the courtroom.

Taking into consideration deception in the investigative process, the researchers emphasize that deception is acceptable at this stage because it gives the chance to investigating officers to obtain incriminating evidence. In general, acceptability and appropriateness of deception differs according to specific phase reached in criminal procedures. The reason for this classification is that each stage in the criminal justice process implies enormous amount of different constraints. For instance, people always give testimony in the court under oath. On the contrary, interrogation process does not envisage any kind of testimony under oath. Moreover, the majority of deceptive practices include processes directly connected with fabrication of evidence. For example, several most common types that foresee fabrication of evidence are as follows: presenting a suspect with faked samples of evidence, convincing suspects that they were seen and identified by eyewitnesses, holding a line up when a faked witness identifies the offender, encouraging a suspect to give consent for lie-detectors tests, convincing an offender that lie-detector proved his or her guilt, and many others.

Interrogative deception is one of the most ethical or, in other words, “noble” lies because society and court partially accept numerous investigative techniques at this stage of criminal process. Furthermore, interrogative deception that involves informants, wiretapping, and, finally, the use of unmarked patrol cars, is officially approved by courts. For instance, scientists prove that these techniques are extremely effective for minimizing the percentage of sexual assaults, beatings, and harassment. One of the brightest examples of effectiveness of interrogative techniques is a policewoman who is used as an “attractive decoy” after a series of severe rapes in a local park.

Because police questioning is considered to be a secret process, people do know have detailed information about what actions happen during interrogatory deception. Furthermore, there are neither police records nor observational studies that depict interrogatory deception sessions. However, there are several tape-recorded interrogations, short interviews, and interrogation transcripts that explain the use of deception in the interrogative process. Generally speaking, utilitarian crime control grounds allow the use of deception in the process of conducting different custodial interrogations. Professionals in the sphere of criminal justice differentiate a typology of interrogatory deception that consists of numerous practices. To begin with, police interview is usually referred to as the most fundamental, overlooked, and reliable deceptive strategy used by police. Police workers will turn interrogation into non-custodial and informal interview. Thus, recasting interrogation as a form of interview is the “cleanest” and the most ethical deceptive police tactic in the process of interrogation as it virtually deprives police questioning from the realities of judicial control. Secondly, according to the court’s judgment, police do not have rights to deceive or trick a suspect into broad and waiving Miranda rights. However, in most cases, police deliver these Miranda warnings in perfunctory, indifferent, and flat tone of voice that makes a suspect think that warnings are common bureaucratic rituals. Thirdly, misinterpreting the nature as well as seriousness of the offence is one more effective strategy of deceptive interrogation. This type of deception is extremely broad and, consequently, may involve numerous strategies. For example, police may convince a suspect that victim of the murder is still alive, hoping that presence of a victim will compel a suspect to confess and tell the truth. Moreover, officers may with intent exaggerate seriousness of the offense. Or, for instance, the police may tell a suspect they are only interested in one crime, when actually they are investigating another type of criminal offence. In the majority of cases, the Supreme Court approves this tactic. Fourthly, manipulating role playing is considered to be effective and ethical interrogatory deception. For example, the interrogator may intentionally express sympathy, understanding, respect, and even compassion with the purpose to play the role of reliable friend of a suspect. Furthermore, according to the research data and the results of statistics, interrogator may intentionally play the role of one of relatives, including father or brother. Role playing with participation of therapeutic experts as well as religious counselors have proved its effectiveness because it motivates a suspect to confess. In simple words, the main task of the interrogator is to convince a suspect that confession will positively impact a suspect’s consciousness as well as his family and entire community. In addition, the roles of good and bad cops are efficient in the sphere of criminal justice as well.

Moreover, police may refer to misinterpreting and distortion of moral seriousness of criminal offenses. It is rather important to emphasize the fact that misinterpretation of moral seriousness of the offense is considered to be the heart of deceptive interrogation. For example, according to the essence of this interrogation technique, police give a chance to a suspect to save face while giving confession. Police may, for instance, convince an alleged murderer or rapist that his aim was to show love to his victim. According to another version, police may suggest an idea to a suspected rapist that the victim was actually asking for it. Finally, such deceptive interrogations as the use of attractive promises as well as fabricated evidence have proven its efficiency in the sphere of criminal justice as well. Systematic persuasion that foresees such deceptive interrogation techniques as wheedling, cajoling, and, finally, coaxing is extremely productive in criminal justice as well as many other deceptive interrogation tactics and strategies. Taking into account the results of statistical data, courts encourage police officers to promise a suspect that his conscience will be definitely relieved in case he or he agrees to give confession and tell the details of the committed crime. These promises should be referred to as deceptive interrogation techniques because they create “artificial expectations” that will never be met. Finally, fabricated evidence is, in most cases, allowed by courts in the process of interrogation. Moreover, it usually involves more than one gambit. Fabricated evidence is usually practiced by police officers with the primary purpose to put pressure on a suspect and inform him that his or her participation in a crime and, consequently, his quilt may be easily proved. Fingerprints, bloodstains, and, finally, samples of hair are the most common types of fabricated evidence.

Deception in testimonial processes is considered to be an extremely rare phenomenon because of numerous convincing reasons. First of all, testimonial deception does not always correspond to constitutional laws. Secondly, deception in testimonial process outrages the rights of suspects. As a result, having determined, reviewed, and assessed the ethics of police deception, its common typologies and peculiarities, it is possible to infer that deception may occur in different stages of detecting processes, including investigation, police interrogation, and, finally, testimony in the courtroom. In spite of the fact that each stage of detecting process in the sphere of criminal justice is characterized by numerous stringent norms and constraints, deceptive tactics are allowed and, in some cases, even encouraged by the court in all three stages of the detecting process. In the phase of investigation courts motivate police to participate actively in deceptive tactics and strategies. The main goal of deceptive interrogation is to obtain factual, accurate, and truthful information about criminal acts. Finally, testimonial deception is usually undertaken for many reasons, especially when the police failed to obtain true information during the processes of investigation and interrogation.

Having assessed the ethics of deceptive practices in the sphere of criminal justice, it should be emphasized the fact that the role of ethics in criminal justice is tremendously important. Ethical considerations are central to court decisions because they justify the accuracy, rightness, and morality of judgments. In general, the study of ethics increases sensitivity of people to what is right and what is wrong. Understanding and assessing ethics help police cope with controversial ethical issues and dilemmas. There are numerous convincing examples that prove unethical behavior of police in the criminal justice system. For example, police brutality or, in other words, unethical and amoral police behavior was noticed during the hurricane Katrina. In 2005, police officers shot several civilians who were crossing the Danziger Bridge. Two civilians were killed and some others were severely wounded. However, instead of admitting guilt, police officers made a decision to find ways with the purpose to avoid punishment. They fabricated evidence that were given by witnesses and falsified report that aggressive behavior of armed victims forced them to open fire on those people. However, taking into account the truth of that incident, innocent victims were simply trying to cross the bridge in search of food. However, according to the results of statistics, in the majority of cases, police officers act according to the ethical and moral principles. For instance, despite the fact that many offers refer to lie in order to obtain the truth, their behavior may be justified because of deception was the only way to obtain the truth. For example, according to the research results, police deception was justified in one of the most well-known U.S. Supreme Court of Frazier v. Cupp. This sensational case involved the interrogative deception of a homicide suspect who was intentionally convinced that an accomplice implicated the suspect in the murder. It is extremely important to note the fact that the deceptive interrogation tactics of police officers are ethical because that deceptive lie persuaded the suspect to confess the police about the homicide. Both examples prove that ethical behavior in the criminal justice is considered to be a controversial issue that involves compliance of police behavior to ethical and moral standards.

As a result, having shed light on significance and ethics of deception in the processes of investigation, interrogation, and testimony, it is possible to sum up that despite numerous controversies, the role of deception is enormous because it is one of the most influential aspects of research. Deceptive tactics are considered to be effective methods that ensure a chance to police to gain confessions and find the guilty person. Despite the common assumption that deception ruins police-citizen relationships, this type of lie and trickery accelerates investigation processes and drastically minimizes the risks that innocent people would serve out a conviction. Assessment of investigative, interrogative, and testimonial deception has proved that police officers are encouraged to lie in case it corresponds to the norms of society, does not bring harm to other members of community, and, finally, is the only strategy or tactic to obtain confession from a suspect.


  1. Having assessed successful deception practices applied by the police, it is possible to make a conclusion that lying for the sake of the truth may be admissible in the sphere of criminal justice. For instance, lie in criminal system is acceptable in case it is made in pursuit of some legitimate organizational goals. Moreover, lie is admissible in case there is clear relationship between deceiving as well as achieving certain organizational goals. Finally, lying is understood as ethical behavior in case it serves public interests. These arguments mean that ends may justify means in criminal justice.
  2. Taking into consideration the presence of a conflict between a code of ethics and how law enforcement is actually conducted, it is rather important to note that police officers should act according to the principles of morality, codes of ethics, and other human values. In addition, police behavior should be consistent with community standards that were established long ago. Ethics in the area of law enforcement influences the maintenance of public trust and cooperation of civilians with police.
  3. Physical behavior and nonverbal communication in detecting deception are incredibly important as nonverbal communication may assist police officers in the process of deceptive interrogation. In other words, facial expressions, kinesics, haptics, and, finally, vocalics influence deceptive tactics. For instance, taking into account scientific observations, avoidance of eye contact is usually typical to participants who are telling lie. Closed eyes and squinting are direct indicators of doubt, disbelief, and depression. Hand movements that are usually studied in relation to deception prove that people worry or feel anxious about something. Besides, behavioral changes should also be paid attention to in the process of detecting deception.

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