Bearing False Witness and Lying to the Cops

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In response to my article “The Right to Lie to the Cops,” I’m getting lots of great comments. Patrick Tinsley sends on a note discussing some of the ethical complexities involved that I did not flesh out very much. I write that “proportional” deception is defensible, but some lies to the police are immoral and perhaps to be criticized from a libertarian perspective. I still always oppose state punishment for lying, for it is hypocritical and immoral to cage a person for such an offense, and some examples are ambiguous. Any lies to defend oneself from victimless crimes are legitimate, and the state shouldn’t have the tool of “obstruction of justice” and “making false statements” to bludgeon people. But surely bearing false witness against an innocent person — in other words, lowing yourself to the moral degeneracy of the state — is not defensible. Tinsley writes:

What about a case where someone lies to police by falsely accusing someone else of a crime? In this case, a woman falsely accused a man of rape and the man was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault. . . .

 As for other exceptions, I think another one might be making a false report that you know will waste police resources. I’m thinking, for example, of that hoax where a family claimed that their son was carried away in a hot air balloon. Now, I know that the police waste resources all the time, as a matter of course, and I know that it is better to have police doing something non-violent rather than assaulting citizens, but even still I have to think that there is something wrong with telling police that your son is trapped in a runaway hot air balloon when you know he is not. You know that a lie like that will mobilize all kinds of police resources, cause false news reports, etc.

I think Casey Anthony’s case is something along these lines. I’m not saying she should be convicted for lying to police, because I don’t really know the facts about that particular part of her case, but I think that is the general idea. She had the right not to talk to police, but she chose to do so and told them false stories that wasted time and resources. One of her biggest lies, obviously, was that Caylee was alive and kidnapped by “Zanny,” when in fact she knew Caylee was dead and had never been kidnapped. I don’t know if that was one of the lies for which she was convicted, but that kind of lie doesn’t seem to be within one’s rights. Police are out searching for a missing child, who is in fact not missing, they are looking for a suspect who doesn’t actually exist, etc.

12:20 pm on July 13, 2011