Law and its enforcement - preface

 Law and Law Enforcement
The law itself, and the personnel and processes of law enforcement are among the
most interesting and paradoxical contexts for the use and misuse of deception. On the
one hand, they represent the standards of ethics and morality of our society and the
rules by which we aim to live. And, their goals are to enforce these standards among
our citizens. On the other, they themselves knowingly violate these standards of ethics
and morality. The law itself specifically condones actions of law enforcement that it
specifically forbids among citizens. In turn, law enforcement personnel employ a wide
variety of fundamentally deceptive practices to apprehend those they believe to be
guilty of crimes: 

many of these crimes, such as fraud or illegal scams of various sorts,
committed through use of the very same types of deception used by law enforcement to
apprehend the perpetrators (such as misrepresenting crucial facts, or even one’s
identity). The fate of the accused is then contested by prosecutors and defense
attorneys. Whether negotiating a plea agreement, arguing trial motions to the judge, or
presenting the case to juries, the attorneys may selectively present evidence (lying by
omission), and knowingly mislead one another, judges, and juries regarding the nature
and import of the evidence: all in an effort to achieve the best legal outcome for the
state or the defendant.
The pervasive deceptive activities sanctioned by the law itself and entailed in the
enforcement of the law raise a number of interesting psychological and ethical issues. 

Does the end of “justice” justify the means of deceptive or unethical practices? Are
these practices unethical when serving the legitimate goals of law enforcement? Do
deceptive practices actually serve the goals of truth-finding and justice, or do they
unavoidably corrupt and misdirect them? Does use of deception by attorneys and law
enforcement undermine public trust? Can police officers who routinely lie and deceive to
apprehend criminals draw a bright line of distinction when they testify before juries, or
does perjury seem like another justifiable means to an end? Does the process of
deceiving others inevitably lead to deceiving oneself? Can attorneys maintain an
objective view of the evidence when their goal is to convince others of a biased view:
sometimes one they know to be false (as when a defense attorney knows his client is
actually guilty)? In the end, are those who deceive aware of their deceptions, or have
they convinced themselves of the truth of the lies?
The culture of law enforcement officers provides an interesting context for
examination of these issues. At one level, their training and culture explicitly endorses
lying and deception as a necessary means to achieve their goals of apprehending
suspects and securing evidence to facilitate their conviction

. Training concerning how to
perform tasks such as crisis interventions, undercover work or suspect interrogations
not only instructs officers that they can and should lie to suspects and others, but also
provides specific deceptive strategies, along with many concrete examples of individual
lies to tell: many described in formal and publicly available training manuals. These
formalized deceptive strategies are explicitly sanctioned by law, and evolve over time to
ensure their continuing acceptability by the courts.
Moreover, distinct sets of implicit rules about lying tend to be instilled and
normalized within the law enforcement culture, encouraging and sanctioning particular
forms of lying under some circumstances, and rewarding the development of deceptive
Encyclopedia of Lying and Deception
skills and practices. Lying is considered to part of what it takes to “get the job done,”
and it is widely believed that one cannot police effectively without well-developed tools
of deception. Lying and deception is further encouraged by a culture emphasizing strict
control and secrecy,

 and protecting officers from negative consequences for many
forms of lying.
In contrast, other forms of lying are discouraged and looked down upon: such as
committing perjury or fabricating evidence. Officers are expected—by their own
institutions and by the public—to draw a bright line of distinction between permissible
deceptive practices necessary to enforce the law, apprehend suspects and gather valid
evidence versus impermissible contamination or fabrication in collection of evidence or
presentations of that evidence to others. But it is all too easy for this line to blur, and for
the impermissible forms of deception to be viewed as just another justifiable means to
achieve the goal of convicting a suspect the officer believes to be guilty: and some
officers do cross this line and commit illegal forms of deception.
Many common permissible and impermissible practices can be illustrated
through consideration of several widely discussed deceptive practices of law
enforcement: undercover operations used to gather evidence or apprehend criminal
suspects, snitches used to provide incriminating information against them, interrogation
practices intended to elicit their confessions, and misleading evidence and testimony
offered to secure convictions.

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