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Lying to the Police in California when you or a loved one is a suspect in a crime: Criminal Obstruction, or just a Bad Idea?

Los Angeles, CA |

A lot of attorneys on this site advise that you should never lie to the police.

And I know that filing a false police report is a crime (misdemeanor) under California law.

But is it actually a crime in itself to lie to the police, when they approach you to ask you questions and you're likely the suspect? In other words, could they arrest you just for telling the lie, any lie, for obstructing an investigation? I've heard that courts presume suspects will lie to police. But say it's a family member lying to police about a relative's whereabouts, to protect them? Is that criminal obstruction?

Or is it technically just a bad idea to lie, because police will focus more closely on you for the lie, but technically the lie alone isn't sufficient to arrest for anything, not even obstruction?

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Attorney answers 6

Best Answer

Yes, it is illegal. Yes, they could arrest you. At a minimum its obstruction of justice. Worst case scenario you could be considered an accessory to the underlying crime. Do not lie to the cops. You can tell the police point blank you do not wish to speak to them.

The best thing to do is get some advice from a lawyer. Make sure you tell the lawyer everything you know about the crime your family member allegedly committed, tell the lawyer about all of your contacts with law enforcment and your contacts with your family member. Most likely the lawyer will tell you not to talk to the police and your lawyer will tell you specifically what you should say if the police contact you again. Your lawyer also might contact the police on your behalf, explain that you are represented by counsel and then the police are less likely to contact you directly, they might work through your attorney. Law enforcement does not have to agree not to contact you or to work through your lawyer but, depending on the agency and the circumstances, sometimes they will agree to such an arrangement.

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Providing false info to the police is a crime. You are not required to answer their questions, but you can't lie.


Why lie when you have a right to remain silent? Just don't say anything. And yes, lying about someone's whereabouts to protect them could be charged as a crime.

All my comments here are intended for general legal purposes. None of my comments here establish an attorney-client relationship with anyone. None of my comments should be relied on in taking legal action without first consulting an attorney.


I agree with attorney Richman. There is no requirement you talk with the police.

My response to your question is a generic response and should not be construed as controlling to your case. I can not effectively advise about your case without knowing all the facts. Additionally, my response does not create an attorney-client relationship. You can contact my office to schedule an appointment if you would like to have me represent you.


Lying is an effective and accepted police investigation tool.

Why not become a police officer and you can lie all day long and get paid for it?

otherwise, say nothing.

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I am not a California attorney and am only adding a general observation to the answers you have already received.

In most jurisdictions, lying to the police woud indeed be a crime. Some federal courts and a few states have recognized an exception for what is called an "exculpatory no," which means that iif you simply and without elaboration deny that you committed a crime, that limited denial is not an obstruction of justice. But don't rely on this. Go beyond the scope of permissible denial by a hair's breadth and you could commit a crime. And Illinois, for example, once recognized the "exclupatory no" doctrine but now rejects it.

So, lying to the police is always a bad idea and usually a crime. Don't do it.

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