Police are there to protect and serve the communities they work in, so it’s assumed that officers treat people with respect. This assumption is not entirely correct. For example, a police department in Virginia used forged documents with fake DNA evidence on at least five occasions between 2016 and 2020 to interrogate suspects.
During the sessions, the officers would use the fake evidence to put the suspect at the crime scene. The goal, and they were successful at it, was to get confessions, cooperation and convictions. Examples include the use of forged letterhead and contact information. There were also two instances the officers used a made-up name at the Department of Forensic Science. In at least one example, the made-up evidence was actually used in court.
Can they do that?
Yes and no. Depending upon a conversation or interrogation circumstances, officers do not need to speak the truth. It is constitutional at the state (including Colorado) and federal levels. While the Virginia Beach Police Department officers did not technically break the law, this dishonest behavior certainly violates the trust that communities place in their law enforcement.
This led to the Office of Civil Rights investigation under the state’s Attorney General. “This was an extremely troubling and potentially unconstitutional tactic that abused the name of the Commonwealth to try to coerce confessions,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.
It should be noted that the department cooperated with the investigation, admitted that it was on shaky moral ground, and claims it put an end to the practice before the investigation. There are now reforms at the local level to stop this practice, but reforms only last two years.
What about Constitutional rights?
The use of fake evidence is troubling. Nonetheless, officers do not need to read suspects their Miranda Rights to gather evidence – yet, they can still use the conversation or initial statement before the arrest as evidence towards a conviction as long as it is voluntary. There are many grey areas on this issue. Still, law enforcement crosses the line and violates our Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and due process when involuntary or coerced confessions involve violence or threat of violence, denial of food or water, or another form of intimidation.
This use of false evidence is yet another example of why it is essential to say very little until speaking with a criminal defense attorney.