Right To Lie to the Cops
by Anthony Gregory: Libertarian
Strategy and Principle: A Long-Term View
In Casey Anthony’s
case we see an example of a grave injustice in the modern system.
I’m not talking about her acquittal. When the prosecutor fails to
prove someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the only responsible
thing for the jury to do is refuse to damn the suspect to time in
a cage. An innocent person imprisoned is so much worse than a guilty
person let go, as in the former instance the state seduces all of
society to cheer on and legitimize an injustice. Also, whereas justice
for the guilty is at least a metaphysical possibility outside of
prison, it is downright precluded institutionally for the innocent
on the inside.
travesty here is the offense of which Casey Anthony has been convicted:
four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement
officer. This should not be an offense in a free society, and I
am struck by how little this horror has gained attention in the
Lying in most
circumstances is immoral. And lying to cover up one’s crimes might
be especially egregious, and arguably criminal in itself. But Casey
Anthony was acquitted of the actual crime of murder. As far as the
state is concerned, she has not been proven guilty. So why is her
dishonesty with the police an offense against the law?
even relate to this point as they like the idea of this person suffering
at least somewhat for a crime they assume she committed but got
away with. Taking it to different contexts, we can see the full
injustice involved in criminalizing lying to the police. What if
people are lying to protect themselves from persecution? Indeed,
when we engage in the thought experiment of what would be a morally
acceptable lie, we can’t help but think of such examples as lying
to Nazis about Jews hiding somewhere, or lying to cover for a runaway
slave. If lying is ever defensible, it doubtless is when the only
deceived and harmed persons are agents of oppression, and it is
done purely in service of preserving someone’s rightful freedom.
rights of a runaway slave might seem different from defending someone
from the tax man or drug warriors, but this is only a matter of
degree. In a free society, there are only laws that prohibit acts
of violence against person or property. Anything else is illegitimate.
As St. Augustine said, an unjust law is no law at all. In a civilized
world, when the state is wrong – arresting and prosecuting people
for crimes that are no crimes at all – we should defend the proportional
means potential victims of the state employ to save themselves from
state oppression. Lying to defend oneself against state injustice
should never be punished.
"obstruction of justice" and "giving false information"
are almost always themselves victimless crimes. Bill Anderson and
Candice Jackson call these types of offenses "derivative
crimes" – offenses contrived out of thin air, used by the
state to railroad people whose actual offenses cannot be proven.
This trick was used to oppress the ethically innocent Martha
Stewart, but even when it is used against a real creep, like
Libby, it is far too dangerous a tool to trust in the hands
of the state. No government should be able to jail someone merely
for the act of being dishonest with it.
When the right
to lie to the state is trampled, the ripples of injustice shake
the whole system. Often, police don’t even have a strong case against
someone, not even enough to search or arrest him. And so they start
probing. They start asking questions, hoping the subject trips up,
contradicts himself, and can be caught in a deception. Then this
is used as the probable cause on which an arrest and threat of conviction
ultimately rely. This is a good reason to avoid talking to police
altogether. But it is also a reason to oppose the very doctrine
that telling a fib to a cop should in any way, all by itself, be
considered any worse than fibbing to anyone else. If someone tells
a white lie to a neighbor because he thinks he’s being asked something
that is none of the guy’s business, we can criticize this as a minor
sin, but it should not be any worse when the police are involved.
Deceiving one’s acquaintances can lead to a tangled web of awkwardness
and more prevarications. But deceiving an officer should not, in
itself, lead to warrantless searches, arrests, and prison time.
There is another
principle in play here. No one owes the
police anything. Perhaps in very unusual cases it makes ethical
sense to cooperate. Surely there are prudential reasons from time
to time. But the police are out to round people up, most of them
overall non-violent people, and throw them in cages. To do their
business, police, like prosecutors, lie through their teeth. It
is standard practice. They are trained to do it. Whereas you could
make a strong case that as tax recipients and supposed public servants,
police should be held to a standard that forbids dishonesty, there
should be no legal obligation on the part of the common person to
come clean with the state.
The fact that
the state gets away lying to the people – about its successes and
failures, its intentions in domestic policy, the rationale behind
its foreign policy, the strength and content of its evidence in
criminal cases – while it makes it a crime for common people to
misrepresent themselves to the government is another example of
the ultimate double standard that defines the state as what it is.
Albert J. Nock called the state a monopoly on crime, and we see
it here. Much of what the state does would be illegal if anyone
else did it. A fair deal of that would be properly illegal for anyone
to do in a free society. But then the state also criminalizes a
multitude of behaviors that should be legally protected, as well
as generally tips the scales of justice in its own favor every chance
Without a doubt,
if someone cannot be proven to have committed an actual crime, or
if someone’s only true offense is against the state’s positive law
rather than another individual’s person or property, any lies he
tells while the police are doing their investigation should not
be illegal. Maybe lying to a cop is in some cases immoral, but if
there is no legitimate crime proven other than that, it should not
See also: Bearing
False Witness and Lying to the Cops
Gregory [send him mail]
is research editor at the Independent
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage for more articles and personal information.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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