As a criminal defense attorney, I dole out a lot of advice on a wide variety of topics. But there is one piece of advice that I give more often than any other. It is a simple piece of advice, but one that my clients don’t heed often enough, because they did not have the advice in time. It’s so simple that I have boiled it down to an easy-to-remember motto: “If the police want to talk to you, you do not want to talk to the police.”
Now, I don’t mean that you should never speak to an officer of the law. If you call the police to your home to report a crime, or if you were a witness to an incident and you are giving a witness statement, then by all means you should speak to the police.
What I mean is that when the police want to talk to you as a suspect, you do not want to talk to them. And make no mistake; if you are under arrest, or a detective comes to your door or calls you out of the blue and asks you to come down to the station, you are a suspect.
When I tell my clients that they are a suspect, they are often surprised. “I don’t know why they are suspecting me,” they say, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Many times, I agree with my clients. They didn’t do anything wrong. They acted in self-defense, or they actually had permission to take a piece of property, or there was consent for a particular interaction. Maybe it is actually a case of mistaken identity. Whatever they did (or didn’t do!) has an innocent explanation, and is not a crime.
The problem is that the police officer disagrees. And when an officer thinks you are guilty of a crime, you are never going to talk your way out of a charge - instead, you might talk your way into a conviction if you aren’t careful.
When an officer or detective is trying to close a case, they are not trying to figure out who didn’t do the crime. They close the case by deciding who they think did the crime and charging that suspect. If you are that suspect, the only thing an officer wants to hear from you is a statement they can use to conclusively link you to a crime. The best case scenario for them is a full tearful confession, but barring that, any perceived statement acknowledging some form of culpability will do.
When someone does not understand what it is the police officer is actually looking for, they go in and speak to the officer. They think, “I will just go in and explain my side of the story, and the officer will realize I’m innocent and drop the case.” Sadly, it rarely works that way.
A person tells an officer that he only punched the man at the bar because it looked like the man was winding up to hit him first after words were had. The officer nonchalantly asks, “Well, were you scared?” “No, I knew that guy couldn’t really hurt me, he was all talk!” That person just talked himself into an assault charge, and out of the defense of reasonable self-defense.
The great thing is that in our country, if you do not want to talk to the police, you don’t have to! The police are only required to tell you about your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney before questioning when they arrest you and want to interrogate you. But whether they tell you about your rights or not, you always have those rights available to protect you and your interests.
Whether the police arrest you or call you up and ask politely that you talk to them, you can always tell them, “I don’t want to speak with you. I want to remain silent; I want an attorney.”
An attorney’s job is to represent you and protect your legal interests. If there is some benefit to be had in making a statement to the police or a prosecutor, or a judge or a jury, he can help set up a situation where making the statement will actually achieve the benefit.
Many times in my career, I have engineered situations where my client will tell his side of the story. But, I make sure it is done at the proper stage of the process - and to the proper audience - so that it helps rather than hurts. In various situations, I have arranged evidence proffers with district attorneys so that my client gets a reduced plea offer or even outright dismissal of the case; I have guided clients through plea colloquies with judges to get reduced sentences; and I have directed examination of clients on the witness stand to elicit the sympathetic storythat gets the jury on our side and wins the acquittal.
Many more times in my career, I have simply counseled silence. Instead of having my client speak, I gather the evidence in my client’s favor, and let the favorable witnesses and evidence speak for them. In other cases, we don’t have to say anything because it’s the state’s lack of evidence that speaks loudest of all.
The question of which strategy makes sense in a particular case depends on the law and facts of that case. But a person who is not trained and experienced in litigating criminal matters simply won’t be able to suss it out on his own. That’s why our Constitution guarantees that you don’t have to. You have the right to remain silent, and the right to competent counsel.
That’s why I tell people, “When the police want to talk to you, you do not want to talk to the police.” So if you ever find yourself in that situation, tell the officer, “I don’t want to speak with you. I want to remain silent; I want an attorney.” Then, give me a call. .
Contact our firm for more information or to assist you in your defense.