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Can Police Lie?

We’ve all seen or heard the rumor: if you ask a police officer if they are a police officer, they have to tell you.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is, police can, and often do, lie. They can lie about being undercover. They can also lie about anything.

can police lieWhy Can Police Lie?

One word: efficiency. After all, a police officer wouldn’t be able to do their job very well if they had to just recite actual facts to suspects.

For example, let’s assume there are two suspects who are arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking. And, let’s also assume they were actually transporting illicit substances, but the police don’t have any concrete evidence. So, they tell one suspect that his cohort just sold him up the river, confessed to everything, maybe even some extra stuff too just to get them to deny some crimes but admit to other crimes, and that person in turn admits to everything. In an instant, an otherwise evidence-less case is looking significantly stronger.

Put simply: the easiest and best way for police to get real, concrete evidence is to manufacture a story and sell it to a suspect.

What Can Police Lie About?

Anything. Well, almost anything. A better way to put it is more like they can lie about nearly anything related to the crime, and some things that are not closely related to the crime to a certain degree, depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific case.

However, that’s a lot to remember. The take away here is the police can lie about practically anything.

Here are some common scenarios where a lie from a police officer tends to dupe those who don’t know better.

1. False Confessions: As mentioned above, it’s pretty common for cops to mince words and put one person against another. They expect emotions to run high, and for the other person to automatically implicate the other, and in doing so, implicate themselves. It sounds ludicrous, but it works surprisingly well.

2. Better Sentence: Cops may also insist that by cooperating a suspect will get a better sentence or may not even wind up being charged at all. Let’s clear up some air about that – the police probably know better than to promise a better sentence, because they have been trained to know that would be illegal (more about that later on).

More importantly, the police have absolutely no power to charge anyone (that’s up the district attorney), and they certainly have no final say in what sentence someone receives (that’s up to the judge). The police simply enforce the law and make arrests when the law is broken, and believe me, they are good at that.

3. Other Suspects: It is not uncommon for law enforcement to insist that a person who is a suspect is not the only suspect, or not a suspect at all, and that this conversation is simply to help them figure out the whereabouts of the “real bad guys.” Again, police enforce the law and arrest people, and someone who is being interrogated or questioned by the police wouldn’t be unless they were at least suspected of one thing or another.

4. “Off the Record”: First of all, this may not technically be a lie because there is no “record.” A record isn’t exactly officially created until the questioning is done under oath. Which, even if a police officer turns off a tape recorder and video camera, is absolutely what they will do after they are arrested and they are called in to testify at the defendant’s preliminary hearing: give statements under oath.

Are There Any Limits?

Fortunately, yes. Unfortunately, they are vague and narrow. Without getting into the legal definitions of how far is too far, the main consideration is whether or not a lie or series of lies was coercive. In other words, if a police officer makes definitive assurances, or anything leaning towards beneficial treatment or situations unrelated to the crime itself, the lie may have gone too far and the confession will be no good.

For instance, a New York Court of Appeals has recently said that where a defendant’s free will is completely overwhelmed, lies stop being lies and become something worse. In one of those cases, a man was being interrogated in connection with the murder of 4-month-old son. He was told “67 times that what had been done to his son was an accident, 14 times that he would not be arrested, and 8 times that he would be going home.” However, most astonishingly, he was told that he needed to explain to the police how the accident happened so doctors could save his son’s life, despite that fact his son was already dead. Ultimately, while many of those assertions on their own did not taint the confession, the totality of all of those statements taken together was coercive that the defendant’s free will was deemed to be entirely destroyed.

Still, If I’m Innocent, I Have Nothing to Worry About. Right?

This perhaps the biggest lie of all. Innocent people wind up confessing to things they did not do all the time. Moreover, even if an innocent person doesn’t confess to a crime, it’s remarkably easy to implicate yourself, even if you are completely without fault. For example, a tall man fits a description of a bank robber, is arrested and questioned, and because he knows he is innocent, he tells the truth and admits to being in the bank, near the time of the robbery. He doesn’t need to admit to committing the crime to have already established more than enough probable cause – with perfectly innocent, legal behavior – to charge him. His situation starts to look worse if he starts answer questions about his financial troubles, all in the name of being innocent and wanting to cooperate.

And one more thing – memory is fickle. It isn’t uncommon for a blue shirt one day to become a yellow shirt another day; if someone if completely innocent buys into a law enforcement lie about “being innocent means nothing to hide” or “off the record, help us out with other suspects,” gives some information, and is later called in for more questioning or to testify and gives different statements, that innocent person is looking a lot like a guilty suspect.

What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Always tell the truth, even if the cops don’t. Ultimately, the specific “right thing to do” depends on many, many more factors than lying cops. However, at the end of the day, being honest is never a quality that makes a person look bad.

But in addition to telling the truth, it’s important for people to know their rights. It’s not against the law or being uncooperative to politely tell a police officer that their questions feel accusatory, irrelevant, or are just uncomfortable. From there, it’s usually best practice for a person being questioned to ask if they are a suspect and under arrest. Depending on the answer to those questions, we shouldn’t be afraid to tell law enforcement that if they are going to ask anymore questions, or make anymore statements (truthful or not) they will have to do so to a lawyer.

Can Crowdfunding Help My Startup Business?

If you’re starting a business, a primary roadblock is probably the issue of raising money. In the old days, fundraising was a tiresome process that involved soliciting potential pools of investors, making cold-calls, and doing whatever it took to attract attention – even if it meant selling mattresses.

crowdfuning for startupsWith crowdfunding, you can now start your own business simply by asking your Facebook friends and other Internet users to make small donations to your business. To encourage donations, you can offer awards or promise a share in the value that the business creates.

The 2012 JOBS Act, which stands for Jump Start of Business Startups, has made crowdfunding more advantageous than ever. The JOBS Act exempts crowdfunding from the strict registration requirements of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933 of the Securities Exchange Commission.

Now, a potentially limitless number of individuals lacking accreditation can invest their money in your startup!

It is helpful to consider what the Act does:

  1. It imposes limits on how much a crowdfunder can invest and on the amount a startup owner may raise in a year to one-million dollars. This represents a compromise to having no regulation at all.
  2. It imposed disclosure requirements, but otherwise the details were left to the Commission’s administrative rule-making process.  The Commission reserves the right to shape policy in how the rules are applied to crowdfunders.

How Does the Act’s Loosening of Requirements for Crowdfunding Benefit Startups?

The Act now allows the Commission to permit relatively inexperienced investors with modest savings to help support highly risky startups. If you were once a startup that would normally receive large investments, you can now establish yourself with the help of many crowdfunders.

This benefits the market as crowdfunders have greater options to choose from when it comes to supporting small-scale business innovation by startup owners lacking traditional support of high-profile venture capital firms.

Critics of the changes in the law point out that there is a limitation of the amount that crowdfunders can contribute in a twelve-month calendar year. They also point out that the full-disclosure requirement of crowdfunders indicate a distrust of crowdfunding among regulators as a legitimate way for a start-up to raise funds.

Athough the Act may not be perfect, it does allow crowdfunders and startups to work together in a constantly growing and changing marketplace.

Why the Satanists’ Plan to Use Hobby Lobby Exemptions Won’t Work

Many religions believe in some version of “what goes around comes around.” So it seems appropriate that Satanists can demand the same religious liberty exemptions that the Supreme Court recently gave Hobby Lobby.

satanists anti-abortion using hobby lobby exepmtionsThe Satanic Temple has a simple argument. If the Supreme Court believes religious beliefs trump scientific fact, then religious beliefs which are based on scientific fact should also pass muster. Since the Satanic Temple believes that individual liberty is important, informed consent laws violate the Satanist’s religious beliefs because those laws require women to listen to false information before they can obtain an abortion. Of course, the Satanists believes all women who support abortion should be exempt from informed consent laws, so the Temple has drafted a letter that women can present to their doctors when the woman wants an abortion.

The Satanists’ Plan Won’t Work

I appreciate the effort that the Satanic Temple has put into this plan, but the anti-abortion campaign suffers from a number of flaws. First, it’s not that religious beliefs trump scientific fact. Judges do not question the sincerity of the parties’ beliefs, no matter how absurd those beliefs sound. The rule is necessary, even if it seems stupid. Imagine if there was a divorced couple fighting over whether their young child should be baptized. Courts want the attorneys to argue about the rights of the parents and child, not whether baptism will increase ones chances of going to heaven or whether heaven even exists. The last thing we want is judges deciding which beliefs are valid and which beliefs are full of it.

Second, judges won’t exempt women from laws based on religious beliefs the women don’t hold. If a woman seriously wants an exemption based on Satanic beliefs, the woman must hold those beliefs. It would be extremely ironic if Hobby Lobby’s legacy is a mass conversion to Satanism. However, a pregnant woman seeking an abortion might have enough things to worry about without trying to convert to a new religion.

Third, Hobby Lobby extends the right to exercise religion to closely held corporations. Unless a pregnant woman who wants an abortion works for a corporation whose owners belong to the Satanic Temple, the decision won’t exempt individuals. Indeed, there was another Supreme Court in 1990 which held that states didn’t have to accommodate every religious belief. The irony coming from Hobby Lobby is as thick as San Francisco’s fog cover. The Bills of Rights are supposed to be individual rights, but the Supreme Court has twisted the First Amendment such that fictional people have more religious liberty than real individuals. No wonder people are turning to Satanists for help.

The Right of Free Speech vs. Online Business Reputations

SLAPP Lawsuits and the Internet

In the mid-90’s, Oprah Whinfrey dedicated an entire episode of her talk show to the topic of mad-cow disease spreading around several countries, including the United States. Cattlemen in Texas formed a coalition, claiming that the show negatively affected future beef sales, and sued her in federal court on a tortious interference with business reputation claim. After spending an exuberant amount of money defending the suit, Whinfrey ultimately won, with the court finding that the cattleman failed to show she had made any false statements.

anti-slapp internet free speechSimilarly, in 2010, a towing company sued 21-year-old Justin Kurtz for creating a Facebook page dedicated to criticizing the company for wrongfully towing his car. This was a fairly unique lawsuit at the time because the comments were made on the Internet by a member of the general public, as opposed to a public figure with significant influence on traditional media.

Both of these suits are called SLAPP-suits. These types of lawsuits have triggered much state legislation aimed at protecting the general public under the 1st amendment right to free speech and the right to petition the government for unfair practices of big business.

These relatively new suits, targeting the general public for their negative comments on Internet sites like Yelp and Facebook, are the brain-child of a three decade old problem of lawsuits being filed by big business entities. Critics argue that these lawsuits against the everyday citizens are an attempt to silence them from exercising their right of free speech or their right to petition the government. These suits are called SLAPP suits, which stands for “Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation.”

Since the real motive of a SLAPP suit is to punish and deter criticism, the lawsuits have been successful in “chilling” free speech and discouraging the public from making future complaints against the company. There are many documented cases where defendants found it easier to remove their posts and remain silent.

States Have Tried to Protect Individual Free Speech with Anti-SLAPP Legislation

Public outcry against these suits resulted in many states enacting anti-SLAPP legislation. The purpose was to prevent an entity from filing a suit when the result would chill free speech. For example, California’s version of anti-SLAPP legislation is California Civil Procedure Code, section 425.16, which states that a person is protected from a suit if “any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right to petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.” If the person is sued anyway, they will lose. However, a relatively small number of states have legislation as broad as California and only about one half of the states have legislation at all.

Is the Internet Considered Media?

When a state legislature is drafting Anti-SLAPP legislation, they often leave out protections that would cover the media. The First Amendment does not protect the media for defamatory or libelous statements, for publishing information not of public concern, or for a statements that are false and published with actual malice. These restrictions don’t apply to the general public. A member of the general public would be protected for making statements about the same or similar subject matter. Remember, Oprah won her suit only because the court found the statements were true.

When the Internet became widespread, a federal statute called the Communications Decency Act was passed. Although its original wording restricted free speech on the Internet, the Supreme Court struck down those sections and included wording that ultimately protects sites like Yelp and YouTube. Unfortunately, only the owners of the sites are protected from a defamations suit resulting what other people post. The individuals is not explicitly protected.

Has the Internet Transformed the General Public into the Media?

The question stands, if a person voices their opinion on the Internet, which has become the new mass medium, have they transformed into an agent for the media, and thereby deserving of less protection? If so, what protections should they be awarded when it comes to potential SLAPP suits?

An increasingly popular view is that an individual retains their status as such, and is therefore not an agent of the media and is protected by Anti-SLAPP legislation. In fact, there have been a number of California cases where complaints for defamation arising from Internet postings were successfully defended by using the state’s anti-SLAPP statute.

Some of the protections for Internet postings have remained the same as those for which the traditional anti-SLAPP laws were established: to protect the general public. These protections include the right to free speech (online speech in this case), the fact that the cases have no legal merit, and the fact that the lawsuit creates a “chilling effect”, as explained earlier. The courts have also found that people on the Internet have the right to remain anonymous when posting criticism. Businesses have attempted to issue subpoenas to compel the person to reveal their identity, which has been successful in some cases and found to be a valid defense in others.

The fact remains, however, that there has failed to be consistent rulings regarding Internet use and the protections individuals are awarded. The problem remains that everyday citizens are often not financially equipped to defend lawsuits brought by big business and their criticisms are often silenced.

Modern Technology Calls for Broader Constitutional Rights

Since the states vary in the broadness of their anti-SLAPP legislation, further protection is sorely needed. This type of protection can only come from a broadly defined federal statute, which will force the states to protect their citizens. Recently, many have been advocating for a federal anti-SLAPP law to protect people in states that either do not have laws or have laws that are too broad to adequately protect an individual’s right to free speech.

As a strong supporter of First Amendment rights, my view remains: it is no longer valid that the media should be limited in protection. In a sense, we have all become the media because of the ease in which individuals can widely disseminate information on the Internet, creating just as much influence as traditional media. Therefore, if the goal of traditional anti-SLAPP legislation is to protect individual rights and to protect those who do not have the resources to defend themselves against big business, those protections should be expanded to the media. This would quell the controversy and prevent needless litigation. Most importantly, it would protect the constitutional rights that make the United States unique.

Florida Leads the Charge Overturning Medical Malpractice Caps

On February 23rd, 2006, Dr. Archibald was called into Fort Walton Medical Center to perform a cesarean section on 20-year-old Michelle McCall. Although Dr. Archibald determined that the C-section would be unnecessary, he did stay to repair vaginal injuries McCall had from the birth. Dr. Archibald relied exclusively on a nurse to check McCall’s blood pressure. The nurse failed to report that McCall’s blood pressure was dangerously low. Michelle McCall died of cardiac arrest shortly thereafter.

Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomMcCall’s family sued Dr. Archibald for medical malpractice. A federal judge gave her parents $750,000 each and McCall’s infant son $500,000, for a total of $2 million. However, the judge reduced the amount by half because Florida had enacted a law in 2003 which capped wrongful death suits from medical malpractice to $1 million. In March 2014, Florida’s Supreme Court reviewed the case and declared the law unconstitutional in a 5-2 decision.

Malpractice cap proponents bitterly denounced the decision. The Florida Medical Association released a statement, arguing that the decision would intensify the “access-to-care crisis” for patients. The complaints fell on deaf ears though because the Florida Supreme Court is set to review another medical malpractice case.

The “Medical Emergency”

Medical associations and their attorneys have long justified medical malpractice caps by invoking fears about out of control insurance premiums. There are three problems with these so-called “access-to-care crisis.” First, the judges had real doubts about whether malpractice claims were actually driving doctors of Florida. One judge noted that “during this purported crisis, the number of physicians in Florida were actually increasing, not decreasing.” Second, even if there was a crisis, “there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice crisis” that would justify the caps. Finally, the law which establishes malpractice caps “does not require insurance companies to use the acquired savings to lower malpractice insurance premiums for physicians.”

In other words, the Florida Supreme Court voided the cap on medical malpractice in wrongful death because the crisis was not real, or if the crisis was real it was over, and the law had no actual relationship to the purpose of reducing insurance premiums.

Interestingly, the Court didn’t stress the most important argument against malpractice caps in its ruling. In theory, medical malpractice caps save patients money by lowering the cost of business for insurance companies, who pass the savings to physicians, who in turn pass the savings to their patients. The big question in that chain is what is the expenditure in that chain? Insurance companies and medical associations would claim that trial lawyers are the expenditures, but personal injury attorneys can’t file a lawsuit without a client.

In reality, patients who are injured by their physicians are passing the “savings” to patients who haven’t been injured by incompetent doctors. People like McCall’s parents and her infant son are denied just compensation so that the rest of us can save a few bucks. It is shocking to me that so many people are ready to put injured patients in a worse position. It is very likely that the doctors who injured the plaintiffs will be treating us. By hurting the injured, we hurt ourselves.

The Future

Insurance companies might argue that $1 million is more than adequate compensation. However, $1 million is no replacement for growing up without a mother. Once the lawsuit is over, the family can’t go back to collect more. McCall’s son will need someone to pay for his food, his clothes, his home, his medical expenses, his schoolbooks, his transportation, and anything else a child might need. The $1 million must last for eighteen years. Given inflation, he’ll be lucky if it lasts that long.

Inflation is a huge problem when medical malpractice caps use absolute figures like $1 million. For instance, California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) set up a malpractice cap of $250,000. The problem is that cap was written in 1975. In 1975, the price of gas per gallon in California was 57 cents. Today, the price of gas per gallon in California is consistently over $4.00. Prices are still going up, so the $250,000 that would have lasted a lifetime back in 1975 will not cover the same expenses today.

I bring up California because this November, Proposition 46 will be the state ballot. Prop. 46 could amend California’s own medical malpractice laws. Florida isn’t the end of medical malpractice reform. It’s the beginning.