Often, one of our first encounters with a potential client involves them telling us that the police want to talk to them. What should they do? Thankfully, they’ve gotten in touch with us before making a big mistake. What do we tell those people (and are now telling you at no charge)?
If you think it is even remotely possible that you are under suspicion for a crime, NEVER talk to the police without first speaking to an attorney. Most people, especially innocent clients, usually don’t understand this advice at first.
First, they say they have “nothing to hide.”
The purpose of every interview is to get you to confess to a crime. Investigators go through hours of training on how to get people to confess. They are trained on how to ask questions, all with the goal of getting a confession or at least get you to say something inconsistent or against your interests. Part of the Miranda warning people are usually given before they talk to police is: “Anything you say can and WILL be used AGAINST you in a court of law.” Whatever you say will be used against you. That’s a pretty good reason not to talk.
Believe it or not, it is common for innocent people to confess. Some studies suggest that up to 25% of confessions are “false confessions” given by a defendant who is confused, tired, misheard the question, is misunderstood by the detective or is simply wanting to get out of the interview room because they’ve been there for hours.
Many people are surprised to learn that the FBI usually does not record their interviews with suspects. (They have suggested a change to this policy, but many agents still follow the old protocol.) They have two agents sit in a room with the suspect. One agent asks questions and the other takes notes. Because they don’t record the conversation with you, it is their word versus your word about what exactly you said. What happens if they misunderstand something you say and tell the jury that you confessed? A jury will probably believe them, and not you.
Next, they say that by not talking to the police it “makes me look guilty.” If the police suspect you are involved in a crime and want to talk to you, something they know ALREADY makes you look guilty. They are already suspicious of you. Further, the fact that you do not talk to them and request an attorney instead is not admissible in court.
They also talk to police because “it will look good” for them. Once you have an attorney representing you, you will have plenty of opportunities to cooperate as the case progresses, if that is the best strategy. In more than 35 years of criminal law practice, we’ve never seen a judge punish a defendant because they asked to speak to an attorney before talking to a detective.
They talk to police because “they promised” not to charge them or give them a deal in court if they would just tell the truth. People are shocked to learn that the law allows police to lie to you. Investigators know this and use this to their advantage. They will tell you that evidence points to your guilt, even if such evidence doesn’t exist, just to get you to confess. They will make you promises that they won’t charge you or will help you get a good deal if you just confess. This is a lie because they don’t have that authority. No police officer can give you a deal, only the prosecutor can do so and usually a prosecutor is not even involved in the case when the police are asking to speak to you. If cooperation appears to be your best option, then a good attorney will negotiate that cooperation with the prosecutor, who unlike police, is required to keep their promise.
The police “already know everything.” This doesn’t mean that what they know will be admissible or even available in 18 months or more when your case goes to trial. Yet if YOU give them evidence against yourself, the prosecution will probably still be able to move forward against you even if other star witnesses are no longer available or evidence goes missing.
“I need them to know my side of the story.” This is a valid reason to want to talk to the police, but not to actually talk to the police. A good attorney will be able to get your story to the police on your behalf. By allowing the attorney to do it for you, the detectives can’t manipulate what they are told and use it against you. You also get your story to them without subjecting yourself to a lengthy interrogation.
“I can lie my way out of this.” This is the worst reason for someone to talk to the police. The only thing worse than talking to the police about your case is LYING to the police about the case. To do so is actually a separate crime. Remember Martha Stewart? She did not go to jail for insider trading. She went to jail because she tried to talk her way out of a situation and got caught lying to federal investigators. Barry Bonds was not convicted of steroid use, but of obstruction of justice for lying.
If you give a statement to detectives, they are trained to prove you are lying and will likely be able to do so. And remember, they can’t say you lied, if you simply refuse to talk to them.
Suspected of a crime? Do not talk. Do not lie.
If the police want to talk to you, tell them you want your attorney and call us immediately.