Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Michigan issued a written opinion in a case against several police officers who were alleged to have lied during an official investigation into one of their peers. In the case, People v. Harris, the court reluctantly upheld a police officer’s unqualified privilege to lie, even while under oath.
Police Officers Can Lie When Conducting an Investigation While not at issue in this case, it is worth noting that the principle underlying the court’s decision is that police officers are allowed to lie when conducting an official investigation. For example, if police arrest two individuals under suspicion of robbing a bank, police are able to isolate each person and question them individually. Not only are police able to question each of these individuals, but they are also entitled to lie to them, perhaps explaining that the other person confessed and that they should do the same for more favorable treatment. Indeed, the promise of favorable treatment – with no intention to carry through on the promise – is one of the most common lies told by law enforcement.
The case decided earlier this month goes further. This case involved allegations that an officer assaulted a motorist during a traffic stop. During investigations, the officer who allegedly engaged in the assault and his partners all denied that the assault occurred. However, they were later shown a video clearly depicting the officer assaulting the motorist. All three officers who had lied during the investigation were charged with perjury.
The trial court found that the officers’ untrue statements were not admissible under the Fifth Amendment or the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Officers Act (DLEOA), which prevents the use of involuntary statements made by officers in future criminal proceedings. Thus, the charges were dismissed. The prosecution appealed, and the decision was reversed by the intermediate court of appeals. However, the officers appealed to the Supreme Court of Michigan.
The Court reluctantly agreed with the trial court and held that the charges should have been dismissed. The court noted that this probably was not the intention of the DLEOA, but the language in the Act was clear and thus had to be followed. The court left it to the legislature to revise the language if this decision was contrary to its intention.
Again, while this case did not implicate an officer’s ability to lie during an investigation — which has already been established — it did show the length to which the government will go to protect police officers.
Have You Been Arrested Due to Questionable Police Activity? It is no doubt that police use questionable tactics and constantly push the limits of their authority to arrest and prosecute people. And too often they get away with it. If you have been arrested and charged with a serious criminal offense, make sure you are well represented by a dedicated Michigan criminal defense attorney who will assert your rights at trial. Call the Law Offices of Steven Schwartz at (248) 266-8720 to set up a free consultation today.