Virginia Police Used Fake Forensic Documents To Secure Confessions From Criminal Suspects

from the pretty-fucking-evil dept

Cops lie. It’s just something they do.

It’s something all people do. We just expect cops to do less of it because they’re entrusted with enforcing laws, which suggests their level of integrity should be higher than that of the policed. Unfortunately, the opposite often tends to be the case.

There are many reasons cops lie. All of them are self-centered. They lie to cover up misconduct, salvage illegal searches, deny deployment of excessive force, and ensure narratives are preserved when challenged in court.

They also lie to obtain confessions from criminal suspects. There is nothing illegal about this act. Whether or not it crosses constitutional lines tends to come down to the judgment of the judges handling civil rights lawsuits. There’s no hard and fast rule as to which lies are unconstitutional so cops do a lot of lying when trying to fit someone for a criminal charge.

Up until recently, it was okay for the Virginia Beach Police Department to use a particularly nefarious form of lying when trying to coax confessions from criminal suspects. While cops will routinely claim evidence and statements point to the person as the prime suspect, very rarely do they actually show this fake evidence to people being interrogated. Not so in Virginia Beach, where fake documents were just part of investigators’ toolkits.

Police in Virginia Beach repeatedly used forged documents purporting to be from the state Department of Forensic Science during interrogations, falsely allowing suspects to believe DNA or other forensic evidence had tied them to a crime, the state attorney general revealed Wednesday in announcing an agreement to ban the practice.

This practice was inadvertently exposed by a prosecutor who asked for a certified copy of a report faked up by police investigators. The state’s Department of Forensic Science told the commonwealth’s attorney no such report existed, leading to an internal investigation by the PD. That happened last April. The following month (May 2021), the Virginia Beach police chief issued an order forbidding the use of this tactic. Since then, the PD has uncovered five times fake forensic documents were used during investigations.

But it wasn’t just limited to investigators trying to convince suspects to admit their guilt. One of these fake documents made its way into court, used as evidence (!!) during a bail hearing.

Now, there’s a statewide ban on using fake or forged forensic documents during interrogations, thanks to Virginia’s Attorney General. There’s been no statement made yet suggesting the prosecutions tied to use of fake documents will be examined further to determine whether their use was coercive, and the Attorney General’s office has not said whether it will notify convicts who were subjected to this form of police lying.

The PD’s apology is somewhat less than authentic:

The Virginia Beach Police Department said in a statement that the technique, “though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.”

There are a lot of things that are technically legal but that most people would find to be an abuse of power. The key is to not engage in questionable practices just because no court has declared them unconstitutional. No doubt the investigators that used fake documents to secure confessions were aware the community at large would frown on such obviously devious behavior. But they did it anyway because winning at all costs is standard MO for most law enforcement agencies. While it’s good this discovery led to swift action, the investigation should really be expanded to see what other unsavory techniques are being deployed to extract confessions.

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Comments on “Virginia Police Used Fake Forensic Documents To Secure Confessions From Criminal Suspects”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i get how suggesting one has evidence of something might prompt a confession of at least some aspect under investigation (whether or not that thing was part of a crime), but it seems they do not care that confronting people with fake evidence that they know is fake, but it has all the look of the state framing the crime, might cause someone to confess to a thing they didn’t do because, as always, "they’ll go easier on you if you confess".

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ah come on, it’s not like people might take a plea deal for a crime they know they’re innocent of if they’re threatened with way heavier penalties should they have the audacity to argue their innocence in court, everyone knows the legal system is a shining beacon of justice and would never convict the innocent so the only reason someone would accept a plea deal is because they are guilty and are trying to avoid the full punishment for it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sarcasm and snark can be a great tool to shield yourself from feeling too ill stepping into the shoes, if ever so briefly, of truly terrible and/or naive people, but even then it can be rather sickening to read your own comments afterwards and realize that as sarcastic as you might have been it’s still likely the honest position/belief of far too many(read: more than zero) others.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Re:

The Virginia Beach Police Department said in a statement that the technique, “though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.”

True. Sometimes, like Aaron Schwarz, they commit suicide when threatened with 35 years in jail for downloading publicly available material.

The boy who was arrested at 16 and spent 3 years in Rykers (and committed suicide a year after he got out) was told by other inmates that he should take a deal and he’d get out instead of waiting for a trial. A trial that was repeatedly delayed because there was no evidence and the complainant had disappeared.

the tenor of the NYT investigation was that the people who got sucked into the system generally felt that, innocent or guilty – you can’t win. Facts and evidence don’t matter. Just take whatever they offer you and get through your time.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.”
The signers of the Constitution roll in their graves.

So rather than actually investigate & get actual evidence, they just make fake evidence.

I wonder how many people didn’t exercise their rights believing that no lawyer would defend them when there was DNA tying them to it even if there was evidence they were in another state at the time.

DNA can’t be challenged, its perfect.
Recall the case of the indignant man taken to trial for murder based on a DNA hit. No one really gave a shit that no one saw him near the house of the victim and he’d been in the hospital at the time of the alleged killing.
He was guilty, DNA said so.
Unless someone took the time to ask what kind of DNA match, then discover it was touch DNA, then note the suspect had been transported in the same ambulance earlier in the day that the victim was taken in.
Then have to explain to a court who really didn’t want to hear how touch DNA works & that merely coming into contact with objects, hours later, that someone touched could show DNA transfer and represented unreliable evidence.

The simple fact the nation has had to create offices of conviction integrity (not to mention the Innocence Project) should be a glaring flashing red light with sirens that something has gone horribly wrong.

But somehow… “though legal, was not in the spirit of what the community expects.”
Presenting irrefutable fake evidence documents should never be okay… but then we give them a pass when they shoot people for moving to quick, to slow, being to black.

That One Guy (profile) says:

No, not even then

It just blows my mind that people think you can trust anything a cop says, but just for a quick refresher since apparently it’s needed:

Never trust a cop. Never.
If you must talk to a cop do it through your lawyer or not at all. Why? See previous point.

To be clear this is not meant to blame those that might have been suckered in by the crooks with badges as everyone makes mistakes and some lessons you have to learn the hard way, but in the hopes that fewer people will make the same mistakes in the future.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: No, not even then

Because they think cops are their friends.
The image of Mayberry lives on in their minds.
This is just a misunderstanding and we can sort this out without needing lawyers getting involved.

Making a Murderer showed us video evidence of cops coaching a mentally challenged man to give them the story they wanted.

Been tons of tv shows showing the good cop bad cop routine & cops lying, threatening, browbeating people.

Looks at the large pile of overturned convictions where cops/prosecutors lied in court, hid evidence, railroaded innocent men & then fought tooth and nail against anyone examining the cases to protect their records (because none of these fucks ever ends up in jail for this)

But somehow people manage to think that cops questioning you is like Andy & Barney sitting down spinning some country wisdom and maybe a sing along.

I’ve mentioned before that I’d love to have a VR driving while black simulator for white folk to experience how it REALLY is for black drivers/passengers, that it isn’t always just black folk being uppity with the officers.
I’m starting to think we need a VR simulator of one of these interrogations that goes on far to long so people can finally grasp that you can torture people in a fairly short amount of time into telling you what you want to hear.

But then they just tell me I hate all cops & just want to tear it all down… if truth can tear it all down, then we should have already taken it down and tried again.

Mr. Daft says:

Re: Re: Driving While Black Simulator

They key though would be to not have it labeled ‘Driving while Black Sim’, but something more innocuous like ‘Got pulled over Sim’. The user wouldn’t be able to see themselves, the mirror (headlights from the cruiser), or their own hands (wearing gloves).

This way they will be completely blindsided by drastically different interactions than they’re expecting or used to. Eventually, the camera pans out, fading to black and ‘WASTED’ gets emblazoned in red across the screen at the inevitable conclusion.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Driving While Black Simulator

Frame it as a ‘driving and law enforcement interaction sim’ to help new prospective drivers test their knowledge on what to do or not do should they ever get pulled over and then just forget to mention the racial component and how that might impact the interactions until they’ve run it a few times trying to not to ‘fail’ it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
cattress (profile) says:

Re: No, not even then

I was this naive, and I learned this lesson the hard way. As a 32 year old, intelligent, middle class white woman with a perfectly clean record, as the victim of a crime, I thought the police would take and issue a report without a problem. Instead, they preyed on my ignorance of their intentions and desperation for the police report so that I could get my necessary medication. I was told that they would give me the report if I would agree to do a polygraph. Since I wasn’t lying, I didn’t do anything wrong, I figured this was just a small inconvenience and I could get on with my life.
And while we all know that a polygraph isn’t admissable in court, the true reason for the test is to secure a waiver of rights, then conduct an interrogation after the test, and use the test "results" to bolster their accusations of dishonesty and obtain a confession. The whole process is psychological manipulation, and in the end I was convinced that I had done something wrong but I couldn’t exactly remember what. I got charged with filing a false report, which took a whole year to finally get the public defender to take me seriously- actually I got in touch with his supervisor who did the stuff I had been asking for, which convinced the prosecutor not to proceed, and most of my hair went grey after the interrogation. The kicker? The cop issued my report because he couldn’t do the polygraph for a couple weeks, and I could have blown off the polygraph once I had the report in hand. But I was so stupid that I thought that I should go since that’s what I agreed to, and since I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t have anything to worry about.
No one should need an attorney when they are the victim of a crime just to report the crime. It’s insane. And there are no attorneys hanging around the police station to represent you during questioning, you can’t apply for a public defender until after you have been arrested and charged. Cops heavily imply that you cannot invoke your rights at any time once you have waived them, and that doing so will result in arrest. I know better now, but I was terrified back then. I just wanted to be believed that I didn’t lie or do anything wrong, but that detective wasn’t hearing it, kept pointing to his test that said I showed deception. I was in a full blown anxiety attack, not thinking clearly, hyperventilating, wanting to leave, so I eventually told him what he wanted to hear. I can’t imagine if I was in a situation where there could be DNA involved and I was presented with fake documents. I was convinced I had done something wrong that my subconscious was indicating on the polygraph even though I couldn’t remember it!

I''m not Sure says:

Re: Re: NEVER voluntarily take a polygraph!

"The whole process is psychological manipulation…"

Yes, that’s exactly how polygraphs work and the "results" are highly dependent upon the polygrapher’s actions, interpretations, and goals.

"[the detective] kept pointing to his test that said I showed deception."

This is standard technique in any polygraph. True or not, the purpose is to upset you. 90% of "detrimental" information is elicited from the subject via induced fear and frustration, not from the actual polygraph.

A polygraph is never to your advantage!

Wyrm (profile) says:

But it wasn’t just limited to investigators trying to convince suspects to admit their guilt. One of these fake documents made its way into court, used as evidence (!!) during a bail hearing.

Using fake evidence in interrogations is dubious enough. Probably legal, but ethically wrong on many levels.
However, when they start using it in actual court proceedings, they cross the barrier from "legal" into outright "criminal". Was someone arrested for this? Or fired, at the very least?

PaulT (profile) says:

"though legal"

"One of these fake documents made its way into court, used as evidence (!!) during a bail hearing."

Sounds like someone’s lying or Virginia Beach really needs to have some kind of law about knowingly lying to the court…

"While it’s good this discovery led to swift action, the investigation should really be expanded to see what other unsavory techniques are being deployed to extract confessions."

I’d go a step further. Any and all prosecutions made by the departments involved are now null and void. They have shown that they’re willing to lie to both potentially innocent suspects and to the court in order to extract the result they want. Everything needs to be re-examined to ensure that this hasn’t happened on a larger scale.

This probably won’t happen, but when you’ve been shown to be faking evidence in one case, you lose any trust that you haven’t been faking everything.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sounds like someone’s lying or Virginia Beach really needs to have some kind of law about knowingly lying to the court…

Dangit it’s on the tip of my tongue, starts with a ‘p’ and ends with ‘jury’… ah I’m sure it’ll come to me at some point, and to the local prosecutors a day or so before the heat-death of the universe.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
I''m not Sure says:

Virginal Beach Training - 2012

"Don’t Talk to the Police"

This is a 2012 Law School training video. The first half is a Law Professor. The second half starting at time stamp 26:40 is a Virginia Beach Detective presenting his perspective.

The video is poor quality but this is a video everyone should watch occasionally.

Zane (profile) says:

If it isn’t illegal for a police officer to lie about forensics verbally or create fake forensic reports, than the law needs to be created. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that an innocent person may plead guilty when confronted with forensic evidence, any person who is being interrogated is vulnerable, and susceptible to question their memory, particularly if alcohol or drugs are involved. All the convictions gained from any officer known to use such tactics need to be relooked at, and the benefit of the doubt needs to favour the "offender". I would just void the convictions automatically, the trust is lost.

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