San Diego Law Review

Document Type



This Article addresses the question of whether lying to suspects during interrogations regarding the incriminating evidence against them is a legitimate deceit. The search for truth goes hand-in-hand with the human yearning for knowledge. Generally, lying is perceived as reprehensible. Certain types of lies, such as those concerning medical treatment or the sale of a house, may even result in civil or criminal liability. Despite the condemnation of lying, lying to suspects during interrogations is a common phenomenon, and has even been dubbed an “art.” Part II of the article presents how police use deceit and lies during interrogations in general, as well as lies relating to the existence and strength of incriminating evidence, and describes their alleged justifications. Part III seeks to refute these justifications, and it turns to normative arguments for imposing a prohibition on lies concerning the incriminating evidence against suspects. The article argues in this third part that lies of this type are illegitimate because they create an increased risk of false confessions and because they force suspects in general, and innocent suspects in particular, to shape their defense in view of false evidence. Consequently, lies infringe upon fundamental principles of constitutional criminal law, such as the right to remain silent, the presumption of innocence, and the imposition of the obligation to prove the accusations on the prosecution. Alongside normative arguments, the article addresses empirical laboratory studies, which show the success of lies to induce false confessions and demonstrate that every type of lie concerning incriminating evidence carries a risk of such confession. All the arguments against using lies ultimately revolve around the linkage between lies and the requirement imposed on the state to shoulder the obligation of proving guilt. Finally, Part IV concludes.