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.