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Can Police Officers Lie To You?

by | Feb 24, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Yes, police officers and detectives can lie. It is not illegal for them to do so. This does not mean all police officers do lie. But often times when they do, officers or detectives will employ deceptive tactics to suspects or people who they believe have knowledge of a crime in order to collect information. Of course, they may try this with suspects directly to obtain incriminating information or a damning admission.


Typically, when a suspect admits to committing a crime after being prompted by an officer’s lie or misrepresentation, the officer charges the suspect with a crime and the prosecutor attempts to use the person’s own admission to prove their case. But is that fair? Not always, at least according to the Ninth District Court of Appeals in State v. Wilson. 

CASE EXAMPLE – State v. Wilson, 9th Dist. Summit No 29227, 2019-Ohio-5099 (Dec. 11, 2019).

In State v. Wilson, a detective was made aware of an intellectually disabled adult who claimed she and her uncle had engaged in consensual sexual conduct. The detective then spoke to the uncle (“Wilson”) who initially denied the allegations entirely. However, the detective continued pressing Wilson and assured him that:

  1. the situation was not a criminal matter;
  2. his niece had alleged consensual sexual activity;
  3. the detective just needed to corroborate his niece’s story;
  4. the investigation would last months unless he and his niece gave consistent stories about what happened;
  5. his niece was not concerned with any consensual sexual activity that had taken place;
  6. his niece was an adult and could make her own decisions; and
  7. this was not rape.

After the detective made these representations, Wilson eventually made some damning admissions, which lead to his indictment for rape.

At a motion to suppress hearing, the detective admitted to employing a “deceitful interview technique,” and explained even though she knew the allegations were criminal in nature, she wanted Wilson to believe the alleged sexual activity was consensual and therefore, not criminal.

The trial court found the detective’s tactics to be coercive. The prosecutor appealed and the Ninth District Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court. The Ninth District’s decision said the detective’s statements and misrepresentations caused Wilson to incriminate himself and therefore, were improperly induced, involuntary, and inadmissible.

Thankfully, this decision places limitations on police officers who try to use deceitful tactics to force individuals into confessing.


The Wilson case provides one egregious example of a detective’s direct deceit. Usually in sex crime cases, the deceit is less direct. For example, in many sex offense cases, we see victims call the suspect and ask the suspect to explain what he or she did with the victim and to apologize for their actions, while unbeknownst to the suspect, a detective is on the line listening and recording the entire conversation. These are called ‘controlled calls.’ These controlled calls, on the other hand, although deceitful, do not involve coercion and are therefore considered voluntary and admissible under Ohio law.


As we reminded our readers here, if you are being questioned by the police, you must state firmly and respectfully you will not make any statements without your attorney present. If you are being questioned by someone other than the police about a criminal investigation or allegations, do not speak. Any statements you make could be used against you. Instead, speak to an attorney. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima are available 24/7 for a free consultation. Feel free to contact us at our office.