Police officers—like ordinary people—are regularly dishonest. Officers lie under oath (testilying), on police reports (reportilying), and in a myriad of other situations. Despite decades of evidence about police lies, the U.S. Supreme Court regularly believes police stories that are utterly implausible. Either because the Court is gullible, willfully blind, or complicit, the justices have simply rubber-stamped police lies in numerous high-profile cases. For instance, the Court has accepted police claims that a suspect had bags of cocaine displayed in his lap at the end of a police chase (Whren v. United States), that officers saw marijuana through a covered greenhouse from a moving helicopter hundreds of feet in the air (Florida v. Riley), and that a secretive drug dealer just happened to be standing on the front porch holding a bag of drugs at the moment the police showed up (United States v. Santana). In the famous case of Terry v. Ohio, the Court ignored the fact that the officer changed his story multiple times. And in less-famous cases like Ornelas v. United States, the Court has been unfazed when police officers were caught lying about the appearance of crucial evidence.

This Article explores the prevalence of police lying and examines the U.S. Supreme Court’s unquestioning acceptance of police lies. In addition to identifying the Court’s gullibility and possible complicity, this Article examines criminal procedure doctrines that enable police to bake lies into cases at an early stage. This Article recognizes that the Court cannot eradicate police dishonesty, but advocates for heightened judicial alertness for police lies and an increased willingness to reverse convictions based on them. The Court should additionally utilize its educational function to signal to lower courts, police departments, and the general public—which is more attuned to police misconduct than ever before—that police lying is present and will not be tolerated.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Information

2023 Wisconsin Law Review 1187-1246