Public Trust and Police Deception
Posted: 8 Jun 2017 Last revised: 9 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 20, 2018
At a time when truth is being contested in unprecedented ways in American history, it is more important than ever to expand our analytical toolset for assessing the costs, benefits and moral implications of routine deception by those who hold positions of public trust. This paper takes up this project through the lens of deceptive interrogation by police. Deceptive interrogation is an anomaly in our legal system, which is otherwise facially committed to truth seeking. The main argument in favor of deceptive interrogation has been that it is effective, and most scholarship about this practice has focused on efficacy. Whether lies are in fact effective in interrogating suspects remains unproven. But deceptive interrogation also has important externalities that are rarely discussed. This Article explores the costs of deceptive interrogation to public trust and to the moral legitimacy of the legal system. It makes the case that even if deceptive interrogation can be effective, it is still deeply problematic and even destructive. Some sacrifice in utility is worth making for the sake of a society in which police model the respect for truth upon which the system of justice depends.
Keywords: Deceptive interrogation, police, criminal justice, criminal procedure, law and philosophy, morality and law, law and humanities
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