Should I Ever Speak With a Police Officer?
Should I ever speak with a police officer?
Over 90% of our clients come to us after they have already given statements to police officers. It's natural to want to explain yourself, to give a rational reason for your behavior. No one wants to look bad. "Perhaps if I could just tell this nice officer why things went badly this one time or why I couldn't be the guy he's looking for, this case against me will just go away."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let us tell you what we tell all of our clients, which is a truth more important, more credible than any other truth:
It is never, ever advantageous to have a conversation with a police officer. Let us repeat, so it is clear: it is never ever a good idea to speak with a police officer.
Please don't interpret this comment as a lack of respect for law enforcement. To the contrary, as former prosecutors, we have enjoyed great relationships with police officers. None of us would hesitate to call upon a police officer if we were in trouble, and we appreciate the service they provide.
But that's not the point.
This is an entirely different context. When you are a suspect in a crime, the police officer's job is very different. Their directive, their job is to gather any information, any evidence that may be helpful toward your prosecution. Consider carefully the words of the Miranda warning: "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law". Typically, when an officer first approaches one of our clients (before they have retained us), he actually has very little evidence linking our client to the crime. Therefore, it is critical to the officer to get any kind of admission.
Officers will use all sorts of strategies to secure a confession, such as "I already have the other side of the story, I just want to get your side of the story" or "you're not under arrest, and I don't intend to arrest you if you can just answer a few questions for me". By making the client feel comfortable in a situation that is otherwise nerve-racking, it disarms the client and creates an atmosphere that encourages conversation. Before the client is even aware of it, he has made material admissions that bolster a case that was otherwise thin to begin with, giving the prosecuting attorney sufficient information to charge and prosecute.
So, to repeat, it is never prudent to speak to a law enforcement officer if you are a suspect in a crime. Be respectful, but firm. You must identify yourself, and show your identification, but nothing else. If an officer asks any other questions, ask him if you are under arrest. If you are not, then politely tell the officer that you are going to shut the door of your home or that you wish to leave, if you are outside your home. If the officer insists on questioning you further, tell them that you want to speak your lawyer. Remember, it is the burden of the state or government to prove that you are guilty of a crime. Don't make their job easier by speaking to the very person who is attempting to make a case against you. It will never, ever be to your benefit.