The Courts of the United States have held over and over again that police may use trickery in order to obtain information from a suspect or witness. The seminal case approving deceptive tactics while interrogating a suspect is Frazier v. Cupp. In Frazier, a 20-year old marine- Frazier – was told by police that his cousin had implicated him in a murder. This in fact, was not the truth. Frazier’s cousin had not told police anything other than being with Frazier at the time of the shooting. After police presented Frazier with the false information, Frazier confessed to shooting and killing the victim. Frazier was found guilty and sentenced to prison. On appeal from the district court, Frazier’s attorney argued that the state coerced Frazier into giving an involuntary confession and the statement is therefore, inadmissible. The appeals court did not find much credibility in this assertion and affirmed the lower court’s decision.
There is a fine line between deception and coercion
Although the Appeals Court did not find coercion in the case of Frazier, the Illinois Supreme Court did find coercion in Lynumn v. Illinois. In Lynumn, the defendant was charged with possession and intent to sell marijuana. In an attempt to gain a confession from the defendant the police told the defendant that if she did not confess her state financial aid- that was used to feed her kids- would be terminated and that she might never see them (i.e. her kids) again. The Illinois Supreme Court found this police action egregious in attempting to elicit a confession. The Court stated, “We think it clear that a confession made under such circumstances must be deemed not voluntary, but coerced.”
Where is the line?
Court’s have attempted to draw a distinction between statements by police that border on deceptive and statements by police that encourage coercion. Courts demarcate these types of statements by labeling them intrinsic and extrinsic. An intrinsic statement is more likely than not to be found by a court to be a deceptive technique employed by officers. An extrinsic technique, naturally, is more likely than not to be found coercive. An example of an intrinsic technique or misrepresentation is a question couched in language that draws a connection to the crime and the person who is being questioned. An example would be, an erroneous claim that the murder victim is alive, when in fact they are dead. Coercive or extrinsic misrepresentations are questions unrelated to the crime for which the person is being asked about, but are being asked in order to distort the person’s rationale in an attempt to obtain a confession. An example would be, police offering you favorable treatment in exchange for a confession. Another example is a police officer misrepresenting a legal principle.