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Guilt Feelings for the Guilty?


I have a moral dilemma and want a Rabbi’s point of view please. As a police detective can I trick the person I’m interrogating to think that I’m his friend – a “good cop” – so that he will cooperate and hopefully confess if he’s guilty? Is it morally okay to trick him in this way? Thank you.

AskTheRabbi.org answered:

A few years ago a New York City Police Department detective in a South Bronx precinct asked me this same question. Part of his duties included “interview interrogation” of people who had been arrested for felonious (usually violent) crimes. Before the interrogation process he read the suspect his Miranda warnings, If the suspect agreed to talk with him, the detective then attempted to obtain a written confession from him. He did this by feigning sympathy and understanding, thereby gaining the suspect’s confidence. The detective never made false promises, threats or used violence. The suspect usually left the room shaking the detective’s hand and thinking that that the detective was his friend.

But the detective felt that basically what he was doing was misleading and disingenuous, although legal in the strict sense of the law. Afterwards, although he obtained a confession from a violent felon, he couldn’t help but feel guilty, since he felt that he’d gained a person’s (the suspect) trust and betrayed him. The detective felt “guilty” about doing this and asked me if his guilt feelings are justified.

I’ve read your letter carefully and I am extremely struck by your extraordinary sensitivity.

There is absolutely no problem according to Judaism with building a relationship with someone in order to be able to right a wrong.

However, this is on condition that the suspect is neither promised something that you can’t deliver, or coerced into making a confession.

Even if it is perfectly clear that he is guilty of a crime, it’s forbidden to use physical force or verbal threats to have him admit it.

May God grant you the ability to carry on with your important work and retain your acute sensitivity.

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