L.A. Liberty

A Libertarian in Leftywood

The Right to Lie to the Cops →

In practice, “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 Scooter 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. 

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