The Motivation to Lie – a Criminal Law Perspective
I have listed below 10 different lies I have encountered in my practice as a criminal defense lawyer, with an example when necessary. Unfortunately, the oath to testify truthfully is not honored by some individuals for various reasons.
It is often important to recognize these motivations in order to build a defense from false accusations that effect lives, destroy families, and damage the integrity of the criminal justice system.
1) Fear – Sometimes a spouse will falsely accuse their husband or wife of domestic violence when the police come to the home concerning a disturbance because they are afraid that they will be arrested and go to jail.
2) Gain Sympathy – Recently a client represented to the Court that he needed to be released from jail because his mother just died and he wanted to attend the funeral. Information gained by the probation department revealed that his mother died 6 months prior to the date he appeared in Court.
3) Impress others – I represented an individual accused of criminal sexual conduct in which the complaining witness alleged that she had a sexual relationship with my client because she viewed her promiscuity as a badge of honor. She felt that she would appear more mature if others believed that she had a sexual relationship with an adult.
4) Protect Someone Else – In an Armed Robbery accusation I defended, the mother of the codefendant produced a fake letter, purportedly from my client, confessing to the crime and exonerating her son. Through effective cross examination, and the testimony of a handwriting expert that I hired, the lie was exposed in Court, leading to my client’s acquittal.
5) Protection of Self – In a Criminal Sexual Conduct trial I defended the young complaining victim blamed a neighbor for inappropriate touching. He was acquitted at trial. A juror who approached me after the trial believed that the accusation was made against my client because it was easier for her to complain against my client than a close family member. The complaint put the actual perpetrator on notice that she is not afraid to tell if the inappropriate touching continues.
6) Mental disorder – There are persons that are pathological liars who have a psychological need to lie. There are also persons that are disconnected from reality due to a mental condition, medication, or drugs. There are persons with narcissistic character traits who view the world as they want to view it, and not how it really is. With these type of individuals, sometimes the longer they speak the more apparent their mental disorder becomes.
7) Not to lose face – In some cultures a woman’s virginity is of paramount importance. A lie of rape, rather than an admission of consent, may be viewed as necessary to protect the individual or family’s honor and reputation.
8) Avoid conflict – Sometimes a witness will get to a point where he or she will agree with every leading question asked in order to avoid the continued sharp questioning of the lawyer. Sometimes a person will believe that it is easier to tell a lie to avoid an argument.
9) Bias or hatred – There are persons in this world that will bear false witness because of bad blood, a failed relationship, personality differences at home or at work, etc.. In a felonious assault trial that I defended and gained acquittal, my client’s ex wife claimed that he pointed a gun at her in order to ruin his military career. She was upset that he moved on with his life, and did not want to have a relationship with her or their child (because of her behavior), and wanted to drag him down.
10) Gain an advantage – Some persons believe that they are just smarter than everyone else, and can freely lie to get their way. The advantage may be psychological – having the satisfaction that they are believed and they got away with something.
Signs that Someone May Be Lying include the following:
1) Your Intuition tells you that you heard a lie. Your gut is usually right.
2) The person avoids eye contact. However, in some cultures eye contact is avoided as a sign of respect and not due to deceit.
3) Body Language – Is the person fidgeting on the witness stand? Does he or she cover their face or mouth when speaking? Does the person appear to be nervous beyond the nerves of having to testify in Court.
4) Voice tone – sometimes the modulation in tone or sound indicates deceptiveness.
5) Inconsistent answers – Is the testimony different from a prior statement, a police report, prior testimony?
6) Contradictory evidence – For example, if your child said that he or she did not eat the cookie but the cookie jar is empty and crumbs are found around his or her mouth, you may conclude that you were lied to.
7) Avoidance of the question asked – If a question is asked, and the answer is not responsive to the question, it is a sign that the person may have a tendency or a desire to not answer the question truthfully.