There is one big question criminal lawyers hear again and again from clients who have been arrested: Should I talk to the police? If you interviewed every respectable criminal defense attorney in the United States, you would likely hear the same answer from all of them: No, and absolutely not alone. No matter what you may believe or have heard to the contrary, it is never wise to talk to the police before speaking with your attorney.
As a criminal defense attorney who has represented clients facing charges ranging from white collar crime to theft to DUI charges, I have had countless conversations about the follies of submitting to police questioning without legal representation. Even the most intelligent people with the broadest legal knowledge can fall prey to the urge to explain themselves to a police officer. You may feel like you are just stating what happened. You may believe you are off the record. You could even convince yourself that your words will clear your name and prove your innocence. But when you face a police officer without a lawyer by your side, that will almost certainly not happen.
If you have been arrested, there will come a time when you need to answer questions from the police department. But those questions should only be answered by the team made up of you and your lawyer working in partnership, never by yourself. To get a better sense of why it is so crucial to have a lawyer on your side, let’s look at some of the questions my clients commonly ask me about dealing with police interrogations.
Should I Talk to the Police to Protect Myself?
Some people are under the impression that talking to the police is the best way to defend, exonerate, or protect themselves. And at the same time there is a pervasive belief that refusing to talk to the police makes you appear guilty. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Talking with the police rarely benefits you in any way and is almost always detrimental to your case. Even if you give the police some information that could help your case, they are not required to use it. They can throw it out if they so choose and focus on the mistakes you made instead. In short, it is highly improbable that anything of benefit to you will result from telling the police your side of the story.
What Are My Rights?
As we have discussed already, it is so important to continually keep in mind that you do not have to talk to the police on their terms. You have the right to keep silent. And you have the right to an attorney. Most of us are familiar with the phrases “pleading the Fifth” and “the right to remain silent.” The right to refrain from answering police questions is written into the law.
The fifth amendment to the Constitution states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Pleading the Fifth, or taking the Fifth, is a way for someone charged with a crime to avoid testifying in their own trial, or for a subpoenaed witness to avoid self-incrimination. You may also be familiar with what are termed the Miranda Rights as they are applied to police investigations and interrogations. The Miranda Warning emerged after a 1966 Supreme Court case and was created to protect the rights of those questioned by the police in a coercive or threatening manner. Police must deliver the Miranda Warning to criminal suspects:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
The existence of laws like these points to the obvious need for legal measures protecting those accused of crimes against those who want to hear a confession. However, one thing to keep in mind is that it is illegal to lie to a police officer. And if an officer of the law asks you identify yourself, you are legally obligated to do so. It is illegal in the state of Mississippi to provide false information to law enforcement and this offense can be punishable by jail time. It can also complicate your case exponentially.
Should I Answer Questions about Someone Else?
Don’t agree to questioning under the assumption that the police are not considering you a suspect. Often you will be asked to provide information under a false premise. The police may say that they are “looking into something,” to try to get you to answer some questions. But the fact is, they are looking at you as a suspect. Even if you think you’re just a witness answering questions about someone else, do not go in for questioning without your lawyer. It’s never a good idea to allow yourself to be questioned alone, and, fortunately, the law states that you don’t have to.
What Tactics Do Police Use to Get People to Talk?
When it comes to obtaining a confession, the end usually justifies the means. Police departments generally operate under the principle that getting a confession eclipses the measures taken to get it. Officers and detectives have been known to employ these and other tactics to drive a suspect to say something that can be used as evidence of their guilt:
- Friendly Conversation. It’s possible for an officer to engage you in a seemingly innocuous conversation so that you do not even realize you are being questioned by the police. You may hear phrases like “we’d just like to talk,” or “do you mind just answering a few questions?” Do not be fooled by a casual demeanor—these are ploys used to make you let down your guard and say offhanded comments which can later become critical evidence in court.
- Repeating Questions. Police are highly-trained experts in recognizing the signs of lies or contradictions in a person’s statement. One trick used often is asking the same question repeatedly in different ways. This lets the questioning officer see any small discrepancies between your answers. These inconsistencies can then be used to discredit your honesty.
- Coercion. Some officers of the law are not above using bullying, threats, violence, or provoking fear of punishment to get you to say what they want to hear. You should never be alone in a situation like this. It is usually enough just to have a lawyer seated beside you to prevent this kind of coercion from happening.
- Lying. Police officers are not obligated to tell you the truth. In fact, they are legally allowed to lie to try to get a confession from you. They may tell you things that make you fear for your own wellbeing, or for the safety of those you care about. They may give you limited or flat-out erroneous information about what they know regarding your case. They may tell you they have evidence to prove your guilt or eyewitness accounts of the crime when they do not. You may even hear empty promises of lighter sentences. Your lawyer will be able to tell you which, if any, of the things the police tell are true.
- Using a Position of Power. We have been trained our entire lives to respect the authority of the police. The desire to win favor and go along with what an officer tells you can almost be called instinct. It is understandable that most people feel intimidated and uncomfortable opposing or disagreeing with law enforcement officials, and this often causes those being questioned to say what they think the police want to hear in order to avoid confrontation.
- Playing to Curiosity. Let’s face it—people can be just plain curious about their own affairs. People want to know what’s going on, and in some cases so much so that they are willing to go in for questioning. You’d be surprised how often my clients have told me they were thinking things like “I just want to see what the police say,” or “I just want to see what they know about my case” when they agreed to questioning. You may think you are going into the police station to learn something, but, inevitably, the police will learn more about you than you will about them.
Should I Tell Anyone Else My Side of the Story?
A shockingly high number of people are convicted of crimes based on evidence discovered in the social media posts they themselves put on the internet. Too many people will openly talk, seek advice, or even brag about their legal proceedings online and in person. Some people will even go so far as to admit their involvement in illegal activities, thinking that the information they share will remain among their controlled group of friends or followers. Regardless of whether or not you were charged with a crime, you should never discuss a case with which you are involved. If you have been arrested, the best thing you can do is not talk about it with anyone except your attorney. I give my own clients the advice: Don’t talk to your friends. And definitely don’t talk on social media—those words can come back to hurt you. Talk to your lawyer.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
If you go to a police station for questioning by yourself, you are entirely at the mercy of the police, and are subject to doing things on their terms. You may want to bring a close friend or family member with you for support, but that person will be asked to wait outside while you are taken in for questioning alone. Your lawyer, however, will be with you every step of the way to make sure that your rights and interests are fully protected. Your legal representative knows that nothing the police say should be trusted. As your advocate, it is their job to make sure you do not fall into a trap and say something that can damage your case. Your attorney will make sure you understand exactly what is true, what is not, and what is still being investigated.
Hire an Attorney Skilled in Criminal Defense
Not every lawyer has the capability to be successful in criminal defense law. Through working with my clients, I have learned that a good criminal defense lawyer never lets their guard down or makes assumptions that the police will handle things properly. Strong legal representation demands hard work, focus, attention to detail, a wealth of knowledge, and round-the-clock vigilance. I make sure I am honest and straightforward with my clients, knowing they appreciate being given the truth about their case from the very beginning. I also believe in my clients and am willing to work tirelessly to make sure the police system does not take advantage of their position.
If you have been arrested, you can’t afford to take a chance on an attorney you are not sure can handle the challenges, pressures, and nuances of going against a police and court system that does not have your best interests in mind. If you need a lawyer you can count on, reach out to my office today. I’ll schedule a one-on-one conversation with you to discuss the details of your case and how to move forward.