Monday, August 14, 2017

Remaining Silent: Why it's Never a Good Idea to Speak to the Police

I’m often asked, “what is the one thing you wish you could have advised your clients before they hired you?”  The answer to that question is easy, DO NOT SPEAK TO THE POLICE.

Time and time again, after I am retained in a criminal defense matter, I learn that my clients spoke to the police about their cases before hiring me.  Those conversations take many forms, ranging from short “informal” discussions to formal interrogations. With very few exceptions, it is never in someone’s best interest to speak to the police if there is any chance whatsoever the police are investigating them for a crime.  By speaking to the police you are providing them with a significant amount of evidence that can be used against you at trial (remember, statements given to police by a criminal defendant are admissible in any prosecution brought against them).  Even when you are 100% innocent speaking to the police does not and will not help your case. 

I should note that there is a tiny subset of cases where speaking to the police about a pending criminal investigation is in someone’s best interest.  However, those conversations should never take place without first hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer and having that lawyer with you at the time of any interview with police.

Speaking to the police spontaneously at the scene of a crime will never end well.  Despite what they may tell you, police officers aren’t trying to “help you.”  Police help victims of crimes, police are not in the business of “helping” suspects.  It’s also not, as the police may tell you, “your only chance to tell your side of the story.”  Usually by the time the police start making efforts to talk to you about a criminal investigation they have already made a decision to arrest you.  They are trying to get you to admit to the crime and/or trying to lock you into a version of events that can be used against you if your story changes in any way during a trial. 

Also, these informal discussions that occur prior to the police placing you under arrest are done for a very specific reason.  Once the police formally detain you or place you under arrest they must advise you of your 5th Amendment Miranda rights (you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you, etc.)  If you have been formally detained or arrested and you are not advised of your Miranda rights, any statements you make cannot be used against you.

As such, the police often engage suspects in more informal discussions that take place prior to detention or arrest because at that point they do not have to advise you of your rights.  They can talk to you about a criminal case where you may be a suspect and the things you say can and will be used against you.  This is a very common tactic and one that people often fall victim to.

It is completely understandable that someone would want to talk to the police without a lawyer present, particularly where they believe they are innocent.  Unfortunately, innocence is often an afterthought and if the police are talking to you about a crime and you are not the victim or a witness then you are almost always a suspect. 

The bottom line is simple, if you are victim of a crime or an un-involved third party witness, obviously it is ok to speak to and cooperate with a police investigation.  In fact, to not do so could potentially expose you to Obstruction of Justice charges.  But, if the police want to talk to you about a crime that there is even a 1% chance they think you may have committed, the only thing that should come out of your mouth is “I want to speak to my lawyer.”  No matter what the police say, no matter how much they promise to “help you” if you just tell them “your side,” do not say anything other than “I want to speak to my lawyer.” 

If you are being investigated for a crime or have already been charged, contact Sean J. Farrelly to speak to an experienced and knowledgeable Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer.

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