As any toddler can demonstrate, when you’re in trouble, lying about what you’ve done, what you know or where you’ve been is pretty much human instinct.
Unfortunately, when you’re an adult who is being questioned by federal investigators or even ordinary police detectives, lying can get you into just as much trouble — or more — than the other charges you face.
Why can’t you lie to the authorities?
Essentially it comes down to this: You have an absolute Constitutional right against self-incrimination. You do not have the right to obstruct justice — and that’s how lying to police during an active investigation is construed.
The punishment for lying to the local or state authorities can be bad enough, but a federal obstruction of justice charge for lying to a federal investigator carries a potential five-year prison term.
Can the authorities lie to you?
On the flip side of things, the police and federal agents are absolutely allowed to lie to you. In fact, they’re trained to lie to suspects all the time as part of a general investigative tactic. They apply psychological pressure on suspects all the time by using lies like:
- “We already know what happened. We just want to hear your side of the story.”
- “If you come clean, it will be better for you in court and you’ll get a reduced sentence.“
- “Your partner is in the next room. They’ve already told us everything.”
- “We have an eyewitness (or fingerprints, or DNA evidence) that puts you at the scene.”
- “We can get a warrant to search your computer (or house or business) if we want. It’ll be much better for you if you don’t make us work for it.”
If you’re in trouble, don’t rely on the kindness or honesty of any federal investigator or police detective. They are not your friends. Equally, you don’t want to fall back on a lie, no matter how small, to try to protect yourself. Exercise your right to remain silent until you can better consider your defense options.