Interviews with the Police: Who Gets to Lie

I’m still researching what happens after a person or group of persons finds a dead body. A couple of people I know are asking friends and relatives who are in law enforcement what would happen, so I’m hoping I get some good information from them. Meantime, I’ve been researching actual instances of someone finding a body, and the questioning seems to range from nothing more than the cops taking name, age, occupation, and address of each person to five hours of interrogation. That’s a wide spread. It didn’t seem to make any difference if the finder knew the deceased or not — sometimes the stranger was interviewed longer than the relative.

Also, I’ve been researching interviewing techniques, which range from “I’m your best buddy; tell me all” to what amounts to terrorist tactics. (Though such tactics are not at all endorsed by the law, they do exist especially when it comes to interrogating afternoon tea“hardened criminals.”) In the case of my book, I would think the buddy interview with a woman detective would work best since it plays against the stereotypes of both the horrifying interrogation and the woman cop who out-machos the men. (I know just the woman to play the cop, too — a beautiful and very helpful bank employee who was thrilled to let me use her unique name. She was also excited to become a detective, even if just literarily. When I was making changes to an account at the bank, I ended up telling her way more than I intended. I imagine it would be the same if she were a cop.)

It seems as if someone who finds a body can be a bystander, witness, material witness, person of interest, or suspect, so it’s possible that any way I write the interview scene would be okay, but I still need to get the opinion of those who worked such cases. For one thing, it will be more authentic, and for another, the more information I get, the less I have to use my imagination, and that’s the hard part of writing for me. (Well, one of the hard parts. Sitting down and actually writing is the hardest part. I figure if I tell enough people about the book, I’ll shame myself into it so I don’t have to keep offering excuses why the story isn’t being written.)

I did find this article, which should be helpful: 47 Quick Tips for Better Investigation Interviews.

And I found out something very interesting. Russell L Bintliff, in Police Procedural: A Writer’s Guide to the Police and How They Work, says, “A suspect, even when waiving his/her rights and consenting to an interrogation or interview has no obligation under the Fifth amendment to tell the truth if it incriminates him/her. A witness, for example, may be guilty of a crime for lying or giving false information; however, a suspect can legally lie, give deceptive information, or sign false confessions or proclamations of innocence and he/she cannot be charged with a crime for doing these things.”

So I guess, before you lie to the police, find out if you’re a witness or a suspect. And yet, it seems that a witness who lies would soon become a suspect, so then the lies would be okay. (What’s the difference between a witness and a suspect? The Miranda warning? And yet sometimes the cops don’t Mirandize the suspect right away, so that makes the difference all in the cop’s head.)

Making the lie situation even weirder, cops are allowed to lie to obtain evidence. They can lie and tell you you’re free to go when you’re not. They can lie to extract a confession. They can fabricate evidence. The only place they cannot lie is in court. Cops always say that if you’re innocent you have nothing to fear, but it seems to me that if you’re innocent, you have everything to fear because it makes you vulnerable.

When it comes to lying, then, the only person who can be prosecuted for their untruth is a witness. No wonder witnesses lie. They have too much to protect.

I’ll have to see how I can work this information into my book. Could make an interesting twist somewhere along the line.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

12 Responses to “Interviews with the Police: Who Gets to Lie”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I’m starting to be very interested in this book. Can I be a character as well?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Sure. Who would you like to be? The thing is, you’re not here, so how can you be part of it? Maybe you can be an informer? Calling/emailing the cops to tell them what you read on the blog?

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        I could do that. Maybe I could also be someone from the detective’s past who only lives now in her imagination, someone she bounces ideas off of when the case stalls. I’ve always wanted to play one of those strange, psychological roles where I’m an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          The story will be from my pov, so whoever you would be, has to be someone I would be aware of, and as enticing as your role sounds, there is no way a cop would tell me about it. Other possibilities – you came here instead of going to Europe, though you never told anyone your change of plans. You were stalking me or something. Or whatever you can think of. Create a feasible role for yourself and I’ll use it. I like the idea of a strange psychological role.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            Here’s an idea: I’m out in your area for an internship on a new horror movie, and somehow I end up embroiled in the investigation after finally meeting you in person. I could be another writer to talk to, as well as someone to bounce ideas off of and give insight, not just in the case but in other aspects of life. I think that’d be a fun idea.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Let me think about. Everyone and everything in my books is material in some way, not just as someone to bounce ideas off. Besides, I’m not going to try to solve the mystery like some desert miss marple. I’m just the narrator and person of interest. If we can’t think of something ahead of time,  I can wait until I’m writing the book and see a role to fill.   

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            Okay. let me know when you figure something out.

  2. Auntysocial Says:

    I’d suggest to anyone that finds themselves sitting opposite police officers in an interview room never to lie if they’ve done nothing wrong. It makes no difference whether you’re a suspect or a witness – the lying out of fear / because you don’t legally have to say anything or tell the truth may well be legal but will in itself more than likely lead to a very real and much bigger question mark hanging above your head. I have interviewed many people during safeguarding cases (abuse) and would spot someone I knew wasn’t being entirely honest from a mile away. That automatically made me probe further and for a lot longer.

    The dog walkers, runners and cyclists that tend to find bodies in the middle of nowhere will undoubtedly be considered prime suspect for the first few hours but only because at that point, there’s nobody and nothing else linked to the person found dead. Not sure but I’d assume they would have to accompany officers directly to the station and have samples taken from shoes, tyres or whatever but it’d be done in a tactful and sensitive way. I doubt very much they’d be made to feel like suspects and would probably be keen to do whatever needs doing to eliminate them from the enquiries as quickly as possible.

    Going back to the question of what little tricks and techniques the police use during interviews, I’d suggest you read up on psychological profiling and the work they do from advising on the gender of interviewing officers, the approach they take and the way the interviewee unknowingly gives up the real extent of their knowledge through body language, posture, tone and general behaviour.

    A close friend of mine is a forensic psychologist and sent several years working in a Cat A prison. Sometimes she was entirely the wrong person to work with prisoners because their tendency to want to assert dominance and control women would inevitably lead to problems with her – even more so given the fact she’s female, gay and only five feet and two inches.

    Other times, she was the ideal person because those that needed someone with a more nurturing and gentle approach would respond better to her than the male psychologists in her team.

  3. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Now I see another reason why I don’t write much that involves dead bodies or police. Too complex.

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