When a detective tells a suspected perp a pack of lies in order to get them to make a mistake.
One common ploy is to have detectives telling suspects that they have been identified by victims or collaborators. Another is when two perps are involved, separating them and telling each the other one caved.
Unlike many interrogation tropes, this sort of thing has been known to happen quite often in real life and is completely legal in most jurisdictions. Within reason. The official term is "reasonable deception," with the idea behind reasonable being that no innocent person (in theory) would ever fall for it, having not committed the crime in question. Police are usually limited to making false verbal assertions regarding evidence (they can't forge lab reports or witness statements, but they can tell a suspect they pulled his DNA or fingerprints from a crime scene, or that another witness ID'd them). They're generally not allowed to make definite promises regarding plea agreements or mental treatment, nor are they allowed to grossly misrepresent legal principles in order to force a confession.
However, there's a movement to make it illegal, or at least put much harsher restrictions on it. The problem is, it turns out, the standard of "reasonable deception" traditionally applied isn't as obvious as it seems. Relatively recent psychological research has shown this technique has a disturbing tendency to make the suspect confess to things they didn't actually do.
Frequently results in I Never Said It Was Poison. This is one situation where the perp would usually be smart to have a lawyer around to remind him "Don't Answer That". Often overlaps with Bluffing the Murderer. See also Must State If You're a Cop.
- In Death Note, this is tried several times on the quite-guilty Light by the person investigating him. Notably, the time when Light uses the built-in amnesiac loophole and turns himself in for observation; he's continually told the murders have stopped, even after they've started again. Later, Light's own father informs him he's about to be executed and pretends to shoot him in the face in an attempt to see whether he or Misa would use their powers to kill him.
- L is pretty much constantly lying to Light regarding how much suspicion he is under. Even as deep as L's claim that Light is his first ever friend. L has never had a friend.
- Light pulls something like this himself at one point early on. In an attempt to convince them to go along with him, Light tells one character that he has kidnapped "her." While Light is bluffing and has no idea who "she" is, the character still gives in.
- In the manga, Near tells Light that Mogi had died after escaping the mob outside SPK headquarters.
- Captain Smoker uses this on Mr. 11 in One Piece, in order to confirm his theory that there's a criminal organization using numbers as code names running around.
- Also after the Time Skip, the crazed Captain Caribou kills a Marine for lying to him that he didn't contact HQ, then stated that the Marines should remove their unwritten rule "it's ok to lie to criminals".
- Inverted in Fullmetal Alchemist when Warrant Officer Falman interrogates Barry the Chopper by checking his memory of his crimes to see if he really is what he claims to be: the infamous criminal's soul bound to a suit of armor. Among the crime examples he uses, Falman changes the date of one of them, and Barry calls him on it.
- The "Truth Crocodile" in Rozen Maiden.
- Happens all the time in meitantei series, since they're centered on detective work. They're usually set by having the culprit believe their work was successful when it hasn't, then catching him or her before getting away and revealing the bluff. i.e, a case in Detective Conan involved Conan and Heiji pointing at a rich family's young servant for the death of said family's butler despite having deduced that the family's son was the culprit, so the real killer would lower his guard and then give them the chance to uncover his crime.
- A variation occurs in the comedy movie My Fellow Americans: a character, tied and blindfolded, is made to think that his interrogators are going to torture him, beginning with truth serum. One of them gets a needle from a sewing kit, goes through the motions of preparing a shot, and just barely touches the crook's arm with the needle when he shouts "I'll talk!"
- Used in A Few Good Men. With Jessup on the stand, Kaffee starts talking about a flight from Guantanamo that (he knows, but can't otherwise prove) Jessup has scrubbed from the records, then indicates two Air Force ground crew, who'd been working at the base the day in question, he intends to call to the stand. Jessup is visibly shaken, and later proceeds to the famous meltdown. Confronted by Ross after the trial ends, Kaffee admits that the two men would have testified they hadn't the foggiest memory if there had been a flight that day.
- Lampshaded in Four Brothers, where the brothers go over their game plan for being interrogated and mention the convenient "hair sample" the cops always use to try and scare a confession out of them. Some of them even laugh when the interrogator pulls out the little baggie and waves it at them.
- The General's Daughter: When questioning a suspect in the gang-rape, Sunhill pulls out a pair of women's underwear in an evidence bag and leads him to believe that they're Captain Campbell's DNA-evidence-filled underwear from the night of the gang-rape. He promptly starts talking about how he tried to stop the rape, and reveals the identities of the other men involved.
- In The Girl Who Played With Fire, Dan, a new reporter at the Millennium magazine, wants to interview a policeman about the sexual trafficking he participated in (as a customer), but the man is understandably evasive. Blomkvist instructs Dan to mail the perp a new phone and tell him he's won a lottery and is legible for bigger prizes if he agrees to participate in a "survey". The guy takes the bait, hook, line and sinker.
- In Zero Dark Thirty this is what finally breaks the suspect and gets him to talk, where hours of Cold-Blooded Torture does not. The captured prisoner is denied sleep for a long time, then offered a friendly meal with his captors; in contrast to the thuggish CIA torturers, Maya establishes her credentials as a savvy and manipulative agent by lying to the suspect that the information he'd given was instrumental to stopping an attack, and congratulates him for helping to save lives. In reality, the suspect had done no such thing—but he was so exhausted that he couldn't tell, and begins cooperating with the Americans from then on.
- Very, VERY common in folktales. One example: each suspect is given a "magical" stick that will, if its owner is guilty, grow two inches overnight. The thief, of course, cuts two inches off his stick and is caught.
- Another example is in "The Tablecloth", in which two women each claim that an embroidered tablecloth which has blown off a clothesline belongs to her. The man who found it announces that there is a wine stain on it. One woman tells an elaborate story explaining how the stain happened. The other woman says, "It must not be mine. Mine had no such stain." Of course, the tablecloth wasn't stained, proving the second woman was the owner.
- Ellis Peters uses this frequently in her Brother Cadfael novels, most notably Monk's Hood.
- Even Hercule Poirot has used this trick. In Death in the Clouds, he tells a guilty man that his fingerprints were found on the vial of poison used to kill someone. The man quickly protests that that was impossible because he wore gloves.
- Poirot uses this a lot. In another book, he claims to have found fingerprints, and after the confession tells Hastings "I put that in to please you, mon ami". And he once hired an actor to pretend to be an eyewitness.
- In the movie adaption of Death on the Nile, he tells the murderer that he can prove he fired the murder weapon by applying heated wax to his fingertips to reveal the presence of gunpowder on his fingers. No such test exists, but the killer confesses anyway.
- In Sharyn McCrumb's Zombies of the Gene Pool, when he suspects that the murderer's motive was to hide a skeleton in the closet, Jay Omega claims to have the phone number of one of their old lady friends and threatens to uncover the secrets himself. In fact, the piece of paper he's holding is blank, but fear of exposure causes the suspects to confess to a number of misdeeds, including the fact that several of them raped the aforementioned lady friend when she was drunk at a sci-fi con decades ago.
- In Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, the Department of Homeland Security prison warden claims the DHS intercepted a package of bombs arriving at Marcus the suspected terrorist's house (combined with Enhanced Interrogation Techniques). Since none of his friends got that sort of treatment, he suspects she just wanted to get back at him for not decrypting his phone on request.
- In Outcast of Redwall, someone is poisoning people using wolfsbane, so the herbalist announces the fact that handling the plant stains the perpetrator's hands red, so they will soon be revealed, while also making note of the wash that can remove the stain. Naturally the poisoner tries to clean himself with the wash, and is caught literally red-handed in the act of doing so.
- In The Choirboys, veteran sergeant "Spermwhale" Whelan gets a confession out of a rapist by assuring him their conversation would be off the record, as between two guys just chewin' the fat, and between you and me, some of them dames is just askin' for it, huh? When the rapist, thinking he is with a sympathetic cop, boasts about his crime, Whelan nods to another cop to cuff him and charge him. The rapist protests that you can't use this against me, it was off the record!
There ain't no such thing as "off the record", sucker.
- In Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow, the cops questioning Alonzo Winslow employ this tactic when they tell him his hands match the strangling marks found on the victim's neck. He replies that the victim wasn't strangled. Not only he comes with a reason to know this in spite of not being the killer but he turns out to be the innocent man he claims to be.
- Joe Friday of Dragnet employs this tactic every now and then.
Patrolman: You know something?Friday: What's that, Dave?Patrolman: I still don't remember them.Friday: You don't have to now, Dave.
- In "The Shooting," Friday and Gannon are interrogating a pair of suspects who gunned down a patrolman after a drug-store robbery. The patrolman just barely survived, but with no memory of the attack, meaning he can't identify them. Believing the cop dead, the gunman refuses to roll over, telling Friday he has a nice story, but it's useless without a witness to corroborate it. Friday smiles, and opens the door to the interrogation room, revealing the cop, in uniform, very much alive. This is enough to make the partner roll over on the gunman to prevent getting sent up for murdering a cop, which is now on the interrogation room's tape recorder. Friday leaves the room, closing the door, and this exchange takes place:
Friday: That's alright, Mr. Turnbull. You've answered the one that matters. You told us which one was lying.
- In "The Investigation", Friday and Gannon are investigating a prospective recruit's background and find an irregularity in his history. The prospect claimed that he left the city where his now ex-wife lives in December of the previous year, but she claims that he left town the previous July, which would mean six months of his life is not accounted for. To resolve the dispute, the detectives ask the recruit's previous employer, Turnbull. They suspect Turnbull would be open to lying in the prospect's favor, so they say the wife claimed he left in December instead, knowing the boss would either admit reluctantly she was telling the truth, or claim she was lying and admit the recruit left in July. Sure enough, Turnbull accuses the ex-wife of lying and confirms the unfavorable date of July. Turnbull is not pleased to learn that she actually said he left in July, and refuses to answer any more questions.
- Even the venerable Lt. Columbo isn't immune to it. Upon finding that his victim wore contact lenses, he mentions that the right one is missing, and probably fell where she died. The perp breaks into the garage where his car is being held, searches it madly, and finds the missing contact, only to be surprised by Lt. Columbo and the victim's husband. Caught, the perp admits to the murder. Later, the husband notes it's luck that one of his wife's contacts fell out this way. Columbo, of course, plays dumb to the fact that he had planted the lens.
- Homicide: Life on the Street: This is a Once an Episode trope if ever there was one.
- A photocopier pre-loaded with sheets of paper marked "TRUE" and "FALSE" was passed off to a perp as a new, highly accurate, highly dangerous lie detector. Silly as it sounds, the story originates in David Simon's non-fiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.
- Detective Bayliss convinces a perp that his special camera can detect the image of the last thing a murder victim had seen by photographing the dead man's eyes.
- Faced with an unflappable perp, a dog-lover who had used arson to conceal a murder, the detective asks, offhand, "We found a dog in the wreckage. Why'd you kill the dog?", a total fabrication. Without thinking, the perp reflexively answers, "I didn't know the dog was there."
- The Wire:
- David Simon wrote the ol' photocopier-as-lie-detector trick (detailed below) into yet another series, when Bunk and Jay Landsman use it in the opening scene of the fifth season.
- The first season has a particularly egregious example, where McNulty and Bunk pass off a picture of Bunk's kids as the fictitious kids of a witness killed on Avon Barksdale's orders, in order to get Avon's nephew D'Angelo (himself the father of of a young boy) to write a letter saying he's sorry to them. While D'Angelo is mostly writing his condolences and such, the interrogators hope he will accidentally write something that incriminates either himself or his drug kingpin uncle. Too bad Maurice Levy arrives in time to snatch the letter and his client away, and his "the-morons-I-have-to-deal-with" demeanor is hilarious.
- This backfires on the cops in another case. After Bodie's crew gets into a gunfight with another crew and a young boy is killed by a stray round, Stringer tasks Bodie with disposing the guns that were used. The disposal part goes wrongnote , the cops get ahold of the guns, and bring Bodie in. Norris and Cole try to break Bodie, but when Bodie won't implicate himself, they pull out the guns and Cole claims they have his fingerprints on one of them. Bodie knows he cleaned the guns very thoroughly, so he calls Cole's bluff by asking which gun supposedly has his fingerprints. Cole, rather than making up an excuse, points to one of the guns at random. It turns out he's pointing to a gun Bodie never held, giving away that the cops have no actual hard evidence. Bodie promptly asks for a lawyer.
- Warrick convinces a suspect that an on-site DNA test has ID'ed him as the perp. Really the test only determines if the substance is human blood.
- Another episode had an interesting variant when Sara and Catherine, without comment, brought in a bag issued to employees of an airline the victim worked for. "Well?" Sara asks. The suspect, talking over his lawyer's attempted warnings, then tried to point out that the bag was inadmissible because they didn't have a warrant to search his car. Then Sara informed him that the bag didn't belong to the victim but did contain a recording device.
- Subverted when Warrick is the one being interrogated for the murder of mob boss Lou Gedda. The detective tries to goad Warrick into a confession, spinning a wild story of revenge and justice, telling him they have evidence that he did it, and even bringing up Warrick's guilt over the death of Holly Gribbs (from the pilot episode). At the end, Warrick calmly looks up at the cop and tells him he's going to have to "step up his game" to get him to crack.
- Law & Order:
- Subverted in the episode "Ritual." Detectives suspect a man of committing murder in a parking garage and then driving out of it, using his magnetic key-card to exit the garage. However, the garage's gate system doesn't record card usages, and with no witnesses they have no way of knowing whether he did actually use his key-card that evening. They decide to bluff and tell him in interrogation, "We checked the readout at the garage. Your card was used just after Uncle Josef got his head bashed in." As they say this, the suspect lights up with a smile and faint glimmer in his eyes. "The magnetic card system?" he calmly replies; "You can't get a readout from that thing." D'oh!
- An important distinction is also made in another episode when Jamie Ross plays a clever game of half-truths to convince a perp to surrender the gun he used to kill a woman. Though she's able to convince the judge to allow the gun into evidence anyway, he makes it clear that while he accepts the idea that cops can lie to suspects, he expects more of an ADA.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
- In the episode "Legacy," Munch tells a victim's mother that her comatose daughter has awakened and "told us everything." After the mother confesses, we find out the little girl is still in a coma.
- Captain Cragen tells a perpetrator that they used DNA analysis to prove that the cigarettes he smoked were used to burn an old woman. When he goes back behind the two-way mirror, Detective Tutuola reminds him that the lab found all DNA from the lit end of the cigarette to be burned away.
- The quote at the top comes from an episode where SVU had apprehended the girl and her boyfriend as suspects for the girl's mother's murder. Olivia told the girl that her boyfriend had ratted her out when he actually hadn't.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent:
- Goren convinces the girlfriend of a narcissist perp to help them by convincing her that he gave her AIDS. At the end, when he finds out she betrayed him, she shouted "You killed us both anyway!" to which Eames reveals that neither of them had AIDS after all, to which Goren half-heartedly admits, "I lied. Sorry."
- There was also at least one where they lied not only to the perp, but to the ADA. "Ah...I see," he responds, clearly pissed.
- In another episode, Goren convinces a man that his wife (whom he put into a permanent vegetative state and is now trying to take off life support to collect her life insurance) is able to communicate by looking at "yes" and "no" cards. It's actually just involuntary eye movements.
- There was also another one where the detectives had the ADA get a warrant for a suspect's garage, saying that there was a tooth cap that was left in there and would prove the suspect killed the victim, which will be delivered the next morning. The man stays up all night going through every inch of his garage, even down the drain, to make sure he didn't miss what the cops were looking for. When they arrive, he's rolling on the floor, dazed from a lack of sleep and paranoia, laughing that he did the murder perfectly and didn't leave a trace of evidence in his garage. This ends up being what the cops wanted, since they knew what they were looking for wasn't there.
- Goren once got a confession by telling the suspect that he hadn't actually committed any crime (of course, by the time his admission was done, he was guilty of some criminal negligence for allowing a patient under his care to die). Police are in fact not allowed to tell a suspect they're not guilty of a crime.
- The detectives are investigating the immolation of a journalist who was investigating this sick girl. Turns out the girl never existed, and was her "parents" tricking people into giving them money or medical equipment they could sell for profit They tell the girl's "parents" that said Journalist left some money to her and they'd get it if they helped catch the murderer note After they do, the woman asks when they get the money, with the cops explaining there is no money and arresting them, causing the woman to yell to the murderer something along the lines of "you ruined everything!"
- Similarly on One Life to Live. Rookie cop Andy has been arrested on charges of corruption, thanks to being framed by the cop who was actually guilty. Also arrested is a local hoodlum who has been trying to help her in her investigation of the crooked cop. When the police commissioner interrogates the hood, he tells him "Andy already told me everything, so we just need your statement, etc." However, having been in and out of the system, the guy is fully aware of the tricks that cops use and doesn't believe him for a second. Not to mention the fact that he knows full well that he and Andy are innocent and that Andy, being a cop herself, isn't likely to fall for the police tactics either.
- An early CSI: New York episode has a victim whose head was slammed repeatedly by a restaurant oven; the victim staggered out of the restaurant and collapsed on the street. During the interrogation, the suspect is told by Aiden "then you followed him out and shot him dead." The suspect immediately admits to the head-slam but not the gunshot, only to discover the victim died of the head trauma and was never shot.
Aiden: Officers can lie to the suspects. Legally.
- In many series, police officers will claim that the suspect's colleague has claimed that the suspect did it, or is about to break down, and will offer the suspect leniency if he just admits that it's his fault. This only rarely works. Probably based on the classic Prisoner's Dilemma
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, this is a tactic Peralta wants to use on a murder suspect, but Holt advises against it, saying that it could backfire. Peralta uses it anyway, and just as Holt warned the suspect spots the lie immediately, leaving Peralta in a dramatically weakened position.
- The Shield:
- In the episode "Blood and Water", Det. Vic Mackey (who is blue eyed, with head shaved) pretends to be a neo-Nazi to get a suspect to open up (it doesn't work).
- Det. Wyms and Wagenbach use this tactic all the time. Most notably, Wyms baits a confession out of a serial killer by telling him that his sister had been murdered in the same fashion as his other victims. After he confesses, she points out the sister waiting in the office below. This comes back to bite her when he discovers that Wyms was on medication that she had concealed from the LAPD at the time, scaring the DA enough that she dropped the death penalty.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- The episode "The Drumhead" had an interrogator use this tactic on a young medical bay Lieutenant. A Klingon spying for the Romulans was discovered early in the program shortly after an explosion rocked the Enterprise's warp core, seemingly committed by sabotage. The explosion was later discovered to be caused by a faulty seal, but convinced of the Lieutenant's guilt by association to the spy, and the fact that his grandfather is Romulan, the interrogator attempts to force a confession out of him by claiming that evidence was found of a corrosive chemical causing the explosion, which the Lieutenant had access to. Subverted when the Lieutenant (rightfully) rebuffs the accusation, and Picard later chides the interrogator for using the tactic as unjustified and uncalled-for. In this case, the unethical interrogator had even opened up the previously private interviews to a public audience; presumably, so that the false accusation would apply even more pressure by destroying the young officer's reputation whether it was true or not. Picard is then hauled before the interrogator himself for questioning its methods, where he gives her a well-deserved "The Reason You Suck" Speech, pointing out the similarities with numerous other unfair legal processes in the past.
- When Worf's family is accused of treason by the Klingon High Council, Picard — suspecting the accusation is a cover-up — calls a woman who served Worf's family as witness, falsely claiming that she has new evidence. The bluff reveals the real traitor, though the High Council is too compromised to drop the charges and Worf is banished from Klingon society. In fact, the only reason K'mpec even agreed to accuse Worf's father is because he believed only Worf remained of that family, and Worf was safely outside their jurisdiction. He didn't expect Worf to actually go to Qo'noS to defend his father's honor or for Worf to have a brother, living as member of another House.
- There is a scene from the short-lived Denis Leary show The Job where the detectives in question lie to a suspect's mother, telling her that he is dead, to make her cry, while two other detectives tell the man that the others are beating his mother. It works, and he's only too happy to talk.
- NYPD Blue:
- Two lies used frequently were: A) A vehicle was involved in an accident and your license plate number was reported, it's probably just a mix-up but we have to do the paperwork; B) [Victim having died without identifying anyone] 1. The victim is talking and has identified you so it'll go easier if you confess, 2. You should write out a confession telling your side of the story, 3. The victim is dead, you're going away for murder based on your confession, you SOB.
- In one case the detectives convince a suspect to take part in a lineup by telling him that he'll be a ringer and that the lineup is for an unrelated crime. Criminals have been caught this way IRL, both on purpose and by accident.
- Happens all the time on Criminal Minds.
Gideon: Is that why you stabbed him in the groin?Suspect: It's what he deserved!(The victim had, in fact, been stabbed in the head).
- One particularly memorable episode involved Jason Gideon helpfully providing prayer time/rugs/etc. for an imprisoned Muslim fellow, but really he was just manipulating the guy's sense of time.
- Another time, a character convinced a serial killer who was holding him at gunpoint not to kill him right away by claiming "I know why you stutter". Not only did the investigator not know why this particular man stuttered, but nobody knows why stuttering occurs (though there are theories).
- There's also the absolutely brilliant climax of "Masterpiece". Rossi tricks an arrogant Unsub into thinking that he's killed the entire team (save Garcia and Rossi himself) through a trap in his house. Believing that there's no evidence to convict him, he confesses all the details... and Rossi asks Garcia "Did you get all that?" Turns out, the team is very much alive, having figured out the trap long beforehand. As Rossi himself points out, he teaches hostage negotiation at Quantico.
- Kind of deconstructed in "Reckoner", where Rossi lies to a somewhat sympathetic Unsub by making him (and even the team) think that he slept with his late wife multiple times. The Unsub ends up dying before we learn that it wasn't true.
- In "Profiler, Profiled", Morgan believes that the cops accusing him of murder are using this trick when they were interviewing him, even saying "We (FBI) invented this!"
- Also notable for using this to rule out false confessors.
happens all the timeOnce an Episode (if not more) on The Closer.
- Perhaps the ultimate example was when Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson told the perp that she was the public defender assigned to him.
- Having just finished a semester of Criminal Procedure at law school, one can say that lying to suspects is not just a trope but often Truth in Television; this, however, would be a violation of the suspect's Constitutional right to counsel, making this a case of failing Constitutional Law forever (and probably getting any evidence obtained from the discussion thrown out of court in Real Life.)
- Brenda not only lies to get the perp to confess, but pretty regularly lies to get them to waive their Fifth Amendment rights. Hopefully that wouldn't fly in the real world. Unfortunately, if you're talking, by definition you've waived your Fifth Amendment rights.
- Pope sums this up pretty amusingly in one episode. Brenda's lawyer, who is watching her in an interview, ask if she is lying to the perp. Pope immediately replies, "How long have you known her? Of course she's lying."
- In an episode of M*A*S*H Hawkeye is wrongly accused of stealing. So he gathers the alternative suspects together in one tent (while dressed up as Sherlock Holmes) and says one of the stolen items was a trap — it had been coated in a chemical that turns the hands blue. When the guilty party instinctively hides his hands, Hawkeye points out that he was actually bluffing.
- In one episode of Shark, the title character attempts to coax a confession out of a perp by claiming that someone will testify against him unless he signs a confession. The problem is that the supposed person is dead and the lie falls through immediately when the man's lawyer notices how quickly Stark is pushing for him to sign it. Stark almost ends up losing his license to practice law as a result.
- Dr. Cal Lightman in Lie to Me does it about Once an Episode.
- QI described an Elizabethan mathematician, John Napier, who "encouraged his servants to stroke his cock" - one of them had been stealing, and he got them all together and told them his pet cockerel could tell when someone who touched it was lying. He sent them into a dark room and told them to stroke it, while unbeknownst to them it was covered in soot - the guilty servant was the only one not to have soot on his hands.
- Done in Jonathan Creek, when Maddy tells the suspect she's been incriminated by skin cells left in Jonathan's shoulders when she gave him a massage, and once she gets a full confession:
Maddy: Just one more question... How on earth did you fall for all that crap I fed you about skin cells??
- It does the "divide and conquer" ploy in "The Double Down" to break the beta of the "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder pair.
- In another episode, Beckett tells a suspect that she has a witness placing him at the scene. He confesses to stripping the taxi, but insists the witness must have been the murderer. She admits there is no witness and Castle even points out that she's allowed to lie.
- In Three's Company, Janet exposes a crooked health inspector who demanded a bribe in order to keep Jacks' perfectly acceptable restaurant open:
Janet: When are you going to own up to the $500 you demanded from him?
Inspector: It was only $126.
- On Without a Trace this came back to bite Elena's old partner: she told a murderous drug dealer that a neighborhood woman saw him kill one of his rivals. The dealer never cracked and instead put out a hit on the woman from jail and was never charged with either murder.
- In a Babylon 5 episode, psychic Magnificent Bastard Bester is allowed on board the station only if he agrees to take telepathy-blocking drugs. He then sits in on an important interrogation. After spending a while looking bored, he blurts out, "He's lying." The perp immediately confesses everything. Garibaldi suspects that the blocking drugs have failed, but they haven't; Bester was just bluffing. His reputation and uniform were enough to make the perp break down.
Bester: Liars are always afraid that somebody's going to see through them. So I just provided him with a vehicle for his paranoia. Your captain's opinions notwithstanding, the badge and the uniform do have certain ... advantages.
Garibaldi: Like intimidation?
Bester: Absolutely! Just like... your badge, and... your uniform.
- In one Bones episode, they told the killer that they'd charged someone else with the murder. He was so vain that he confessed just to get the credit.
- In one episode of Neighbours, a man arrested for assaulting Chris names Jarrod as the man who paid him to. Jarrod effortlessly exposes him as a liar by showing up at the interview with Superintendent Hayes and leading Walton to believe he is his Legal Aid lawyer. By the following scene he has changed his story.
- Played for laughs on The Golden Girls. One of the Empty Nest characters, Barbara, had crossed over for the episode and had to help the girls when a guy came into the house with a gun.
Rose: You said you didn't have a gun, you lied!Barbara: To a bad guy. It's okay to lie to a bad guy.
- An undercover cop pulling a buy-and-bust on Breaking Bad rouses Badger's suspicions, but he covers himself by saying "If you ask a cop straight-up if he's a cop, they have to say yes. It's like, in the Constitution or something." He's asked, he denies it solemnly with his hand to God, and they complete the deal. About five seconds after completing the deal, the cop busts Badger.
- Community: Played for Laughs in the second episode.
Dean: [over P.A.] To whoever is growing a small patch of cannabis behind the gymnasium, congratulations, you have won a cruise. Report to Security to claim your tickets.
- Nash Bridges was a fan of this:
- To get a corrupt bail bondsman to confess, he arranged for a group of men who bore a strong resemblance to various skips to board a bus under the guise of getting them out of town when they're supposed to be attending their trials.
- Another time, he tells a suspect that his partner is telling Harvey everything about their crime. The suspect counters with everything he knows, unaware that Harvey is just talking sports with the partner.
- At least twice, Nash and Joe have pretended a dead suspect was still alive and confessing everything to get that suspect's accomplice to talk.
Accomplice: Does he have a lawyer?
Joe: He hasn't asked for one.
- Psych had Juliet do this rather briefly, but it still worked.
Juliet: Well, that's okay. We can just check the security cameras in the parking garage.
Suspect: There were no cameras in that...garage.
- In Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., in an effort to convince Theresa Swann to give testimony about the murder of Biggie Smalls, Kading and his team create a fake confession letter, ostensibly from someone else, to convince her that they can already make a case against her.
- Can be used in the party game Werewolf. In one case, Player A claimed to be the seer and accused Player B of being a werewolf, hounding him sufficiently to extract a confession. Player A then confessed that he had no evidence of Player B being a wolf in the first place.
- Humorously deconstructed in The Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
- In Doubt, Sister Aloysius claims she spoke with some nuns at Father Flynn's last church when confronting him about his relationship with Donald. She later admits to Sister James that she did no such thing.
- Ace Attorney:
- Case 3-3 was ended successfully by Phoenix's use of such a lie (confusing the color of a poison vial) to confess (by way of correcting the color, implying that he would have to have done it to know what the real color was).
- In Case 2-4, 'Adrian Andrews' is a pretty masculine name, so Wright leads Shelly De Killer on by letting Shelly lie about his meeting with Adrian. He uses male pronouns, so Shelly uses them too...and then Wright accuses him of lying about having ever met Adrian in the first place. Adrian is a woman.
- Early on in Suikoden, Odessa uses this to confirm that the pick-up man for a vital blueprint she needed delivered was the real deal (he is).
Kage: My name is Kage. I have been sent by Sir Mose, chief of the secret factory.Odessa: Mose certainly keeps unusual company. How is he? I received a letter from him mentioning that a pigeon of his was sick. I find it hard to imagine Mose taking care of a sick pigeon.Kage: Very strange, lady. Sir Mose does not keep any pigeons.
- You can pull one on a robber in Fallout: New Vegas if your perception is high enough. The girl has just taken a necklace made from rare Sunset Star Sarsaparilla caps off the guy she killed "in defense", and claims that it's hers. You claim that you've never seen bottlecaps like "those six", and she agrees that they're very special. You then point out that there are actually seven caps, which she'd know if she really owned it in the first place.
- * The The Elder Scrolls series has an in-game book titled A Game at Dinner which includes this on a Batman Gambit scale. A Dunmer (Dark Elf) spy is writing a letter of resignation from espionage, and explains why. He was invited (along with several other Dunmer and at least one human) to dinner by Hlaalu Helseth, the head of the House the narrator is spying on. The narrator describes having seen a renowned alchemist (who makes exceptionally unpleasant poisons) visit the host. The narrator attends the dinner, and fakes eating and drinking. After everyone has eaten, Helseth announces that the disloyal have been given a fast-acting poison, the faithful have been spared, and the antidote is in a broth he had just had brought out (there was enough food available at the feast that nobody would have any other reason to drink any). The narrator wonders how this was possible, as all ate from the same plates and drank wine from the same chalice. Helseth announces that the utensils were actually poisoned, so even feigning eating would poison you. Due to this, not only would you die, but you would have "sadly, missed an excellent roast." Eventually, one of the human guests jumps up and drinks a large quantity of the broth, and then confesses his espionage. Helseth smiles when he finishes, and explains that the "antidote" was actually the poison, and that he does NOT, in fact, have an antidote to it. The narrator finishes his letter of resignation by informing his superiors that he sincerely does not want to describe the agony in which the poor man died, and that the paymaster to whom the letter is addressed does not want to know. The tale ends with the narrator begging his superiors to be removed from his position. "I cannot win at the games he mastered long ago."
- The Simpsons, with the Springfield police catching Homer Simpson by sending him a letter that he'd won a motorboat, before nailing him for his unpaid parking tickets. Despite this Homer still demanded his motorboat.
- In another episode, Krusty is announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and he travels to Oslo to accept it, but it turned out to be a ruse to bring him to World Court.
- A tactic occasionally used by real police is to mail hundreds of people with outstanding warrants letters saying that they had won a prize, but must present themselves in person at a specific place and time to claim it. Such stings often result in dozens of arrests.
- The film Bernie (which was based on a true story) has the DA do something like this. He organizes a fake contest in which the person who kept their hand on a new car the longest would win the car, using this to lure out men who owed child support so they could be arrested.
- The US Marshals set out invites to thousands of people in Washington, D.C. telling them that there was a brunch on December 15, 1985, where they would also be given free tickets to see the Washington Redskins. In fact, the invites were all sent to people with outstanding warrants, with every staff member at the D.C Convention Center replaced by cops in disguise. All in all, more than three thousand people were arrested on that day, as detailed on the US Marshals' website.
- Real Life example. In several of his books, John Douglas goes into detail about some of the more creative techniques for perp sweating and obtaining confessions. He ends by explaining that, were he on the receiving end, he'd take whatever deal was offered. It's honestly in your best interests to do so, as lying and drawing the process out only makes things worse for all concerned.
- Except that the police aren't the ones who cut deals, prosecutors are, and any "deal" made with the police is null and void. Oops. Increasingly in fiction, the police merely say they talk to the DA with cooperation.
- As your lawyer should tell you if present. If he's not, why are you talking at all? (at least in the US.)
- Cops strongly (and correctly) suspected that Susan Smith was lying about her children being abducted by a carjacker. So they told her that the police had been staking out the intersection in question (where she told them the abduction had happened) and knew for a fact that no such incident had taken place. Their strategy worked-she confessed.
- One very disturbing result of this tactic is that it can also convince innocent people to confess and/or plead guilty because they don't see any hope of winning in court. Even more disturbing in the case of 14-year-old Michael Crowe. The police told him they had physical evidence that he had murdered his sister. Even though he was innocent, he not only confessed, for a while he actually came to believe that he must have done it.
- According to David Simon in Homicide, this is basically a requirement of being a detective. A good detective must be able to read a suspect his Miranda rights, (and in Baltimore) sign a paper showing they've understood them, and then in the very next breath convince the suspect that those rights are meaningless. From there, it's half-truths and lies all the way. For example: One common trick is to confiscate the suspect's shoes and tell the suspect that they're going to check that blood splatter on them to see if it's the victim's blood type. It serves a double-whammy: The suspect is convinced they have evidence, and their faith in themselves is shot; hell, they didn't even notice that any blood splatter had hit their shoes!
Bunk: Let's start with an easy one. Is your name in fact DeShawn Fredericks?DeShawn: Yeah. [Landsman presses the button. The machine spits out the first "truth" sheet]Ed Norris: Truth.Bunk: And do you reside, in fact, in the 1200 block of Woodyear Street in West Baltimore?DeShawn: Yeah.[Landsman presses the button. The machine spits out the second "truth" sheet]Ed Norris: Truth.Bunk: And did you and Monell shoot your boy Pookie down on Cary Street just like Monell said you did?DeShawn: No! No.[Landsman presses the button. The "false" sheet is spat out]Ed Norris: Lie. You're a lying motherfucker.Bunk: [imitates losing horns]Jay Landsman: The machine is never wrong, son.
- Simon also notes other things of even more dubious legality, such using a Xerox copier as a lie detector. The detectives load three sheets of paper, reading "truth", "truth", "false" into the machine. The questions are answered, and "copy" pressed. The Wire features this in its season 5 premiere:
- Another detective uses the sobriety test ("look at my finger, cross your eyes, stand on one leg"), telling a perp it is a kind of ninja truth technique. This works.
- Another extremely stupid suspect admits to beating a woman into unconsciousness, robbing her, and orally raping her, but is convinced by a detective's assurance that, because he didn't actually strike the mortal blow, he cannot be charged. As one detective notes: "Ignorant motherfucker."
- Most of the techniques police interrogators use are similarly used by journalists to get subjects to be more open than they normally might be.
- The book America's Dumbest Criminals once recounted the time a police detective bought a new fingerprint kit and tested it on himself. Later, he interrogated a suspect and took out the card with his own fingerprints on it, implying it was taken from the crime scene. This is a borderline case as he never outright said the fingerprints were the suspect's.
- German law forbids (among other things) deception as a method to compromise the free will of an interrogated person.