Ask a Cop – December 2010


I recently went to court for a possession ticket and was told by my public defender that it is one-hundo percent legal for a cop to lie to a civilian. Is this true? The night I got the ticket, I was out with my roommates and we were going to go watch Avatar 3D at Jordan Commons. We smoked a bowl in the car (bad thinking, I know!), and were headed to the theater when the security officers from Jordan Commons stopped us. We were immediately (and very rudely) asked who had the “dope” and were escorted back to the car where it was. The Sandy cops came shortly after and we were told if one of us said the pot and pipe were theirs, then only he would get the ticket. The roommate who brought it told them, and we ended up all getting tickets. I got off with a Plea and Abeyance, but still feel like I got stiffed, as we were all definitely told that only one of us would get a ticket. I thought we’d be able to get off on the fact that we were lied to, but apparently no dice. Also, the report said that their was an eighth in the car when it was only about a half of a bowl. I know ANY amount of pot is illegal, but it still made me mad that they lied on the report about that as well. What’s up with that? It doesn’t make sense that someone who is defending the law can override it, especially in a teeny-tiny little case like this.
Thanks. Blegh.

Dear Blegh:

You’ve asked an excellent question. However, there’s a lot more to it than inquiring about cops lying or breaking promises. I’m curious why you took a plea if there was no way they could reproduce the 1/8 oz? The prosecutor would’ve tossed the case right then when he saw it was only a bowl and no eighth to go along as the report indicated. Don’t think they could submit a non-legit, throw down eighth. Evidence doesn’t work that way, except in the movies. I guarantee the entire evidence room and evidence booking process is not backing up that cop. Next time you might want to think about fighting it and springing for a private lawyer. Or, you could quit weed, maybe.

Your public defender is right on that cops are allowed to lie. Is it a best practice for them to do so? That depends on too many factors to get into here, but there are other variables.
Instead of taking a plea, let’s say you went to trial. You and all your witnesses are going to testify that the only reason you said anything was that the cop promised he’d only arrest the person responsible for the missing eighth. Obviously, you were detained and not free to leave. So, you were read your Miranda warning before any custodial questioning that could elicit an incriminating response, right? You only agreed to talk because the cop promised not to arrest you if it wasn’t your weed anyway, right? A judge in a Justice Court (which isn’t a court of record anyway) isn’t really going to care if the cop lied, and therefore the prosecutor won’t either. However, if you asked for a jury trial instead of a bench, I guarantee the prosecutor was not going to like having your defender telling regular citizens about how a deceitful cop lied to a bunch of kids so he could knock out a bunch of arrest tickets for weed. What the cop did, but it surely wouldn’t look good to a reasonable jury. They might just feel sorry for your stoner butt and let you off the hook.

Now, let’s say you have a piece of shit child molester who rapes a small kid in a 7-Eleven bathroom—yes, that kind of thing does happen. You have no usable evidence and desperately need a confession. So, you quickly tell your partner to stick a fake-looking camera on the ceiling pointing at the bathroom in the store. You walk this filth into the 7-Eleven and show him how you have him on that camera going into the bathroom with the child. Then you take him back to the interview room and let him know you don’t think he’s stupid, just real sick and needs help and counseling … blah, blah, blah … Then sit back and listen to his confession. When that goes to trial, the jury is probably going to think, “What a great police tactic that was to get this vile germ to confess his crimes!”

So yes, they can lie. Should they? Well, not always, but sometimes, most definitely.