Should I talk to the Police if I am a suspect?
The answer is no.
But what if I am innocent?
But they just want to rule me out as a suspect.
But people might think I am guilty if I do not.
No, No, No!!!
Look, you have good intentions – you want to be helpful. You have been led to believe that a quick conversation with detectives will ‘clear up the confusion’ and get this mess over more quickly. Naturally, you are eager to address the issue directly rather than ‘hide behind your lawyer,’ as they say. Innocent people don’t need lawyers, right? Wrong.
The problem is that you do not understand what how an interrogation works or what its purpose is. An interrogation is not a search for truth. It is an opportunity for the Police to collect additional evidence to confirm their existing suspicion so they can arrest and charge you. It is a game that they are playing, when you don’t even know the rules. You think that you can ‘nice’ your way out of suspicion by complying, but you cannot. The Police are not your friend; they are doing their job, which is to investigate and prosecute crimes. The ‘Nice cop’ routine is part of their training to elicit additional information from you – a psychological tactic to encourage you to be more forthcoming.
If you cannot resist the seductive temptation to be interrogated, then at least bring a toothbrush for your jail stay. The Police need additional information provided by you so they can arrest you as a thanks for your cooperation. If they had everything that they needed, the Police would have already arrested you. Sign here, here, and here on the form that waives your Fifth and Sixth Constitutional protections as if no harm could come of it.
Have a few alarms begun to sound in your head yet that maybe this isn’t a good idea?
Here are some of the tricks that the police can and will use against you:
- They can lie to you and tell you that they found your DNA.
- They can tell you that a witness identified you at the scene.
- They can say that your spouse is in the other room writing a formal statement against you.
- If your story is too consistent, they will say that it’s made up.
- If your story is not consistent enough, they will say that it’s made up.
- If they don’t like your version, they will have you go over it and over it until they can ‘interpret’ it differently.
- If they can’t get an actual confession, they’ll settle for word games and mind games.
- If they believe that you have confessed, they will stop investigating the case for alternative explanations because they think your statement seals the deal.
So don’t let the Police make you feel guilty for not wanting to play Hide-the-Ball.
Also, when you go to the Police station voluntarily, the Police do not have to read you the Miranda warning, so do not think that your words are “off the record.” Even if you convince them to turn off a recorder, they can always testify to what they heard come out of your mouth.
Don’t let the police make you feel guilty for refusing to be a chump.
Here are a few true stories similar to what you may encounter if you don’t have an attorney present. I represented each of these defendants and did not make these facts up, so don’t dismiss these warnings as something ripped off of prime-time television.
The One Question Curve ball: A man was accused of shaking his baby to death. The police told him that they wanted to “just ask him one question.” He went to be questioned, believing that the police would just ask him whether he shook the baby or not. After three hours of answering the same questions over and over again, he finally said, “Enough.” At his trial, the interrogating officer said, “Man, you should have seen how quickly he ran out of the room when we started turning up the heat.” The man’s cooperation was used against him even though he said nothing incriminating.
The recent Supreme Court case Salinas v. Texas held that if you have not been placed in custody and have not received Miranda warnings, and you voluntarily respond to some questions but not others, the prosecution can use your silence in response to the later questions as evidence of your guilt.
The Helping Hoax: I represented a man who had a limited education, which was immediately obvious to anyone who met him. The interrogating officer continued to use the word “provocative” to describe the minor’s behavior, and he insisted that the man agree. My client was too embarrassed to admit that he did not know what “provocative” meant, so he just started saying “Sure” to everything that was asked. The man trusted that the officer had his best interests because the officer kept telling him that he liked him and wanted to help him during the interrogation.
During the trial, the officer kept repeating the word “provocative” as if it was something the man had originally come up with himself. I confronted the officer at trial and he finally admitted that he’d brought up the word first. I also asked, “Did you make a promise to help my client?” He grinned widely and said, “Sure did … I helped him right into a jail cell.” Even though the jury thought it was a sleazy tactic, they still convicted the man in large part due to the perceived confession.
The Guessing Game: A man went into an interrogation and could not remember what happened the night before because he drank so much he passed out. The police ask him over and over what happened, and the man keeps insisting that he does not recall the prior night’s events. The police then shifted their tactics and came up with a list of complicated, made-up scenarios, all of which would the defendant guilty.
The police then asked, “Maybe it happened like that. Is that possible? Is it? We’re not saying that you did it or that it went down that way, but you must admit that it is possible if you don’t even remember that night.” Since the man had already said multiple times that he didn’t know what had happened, he said something like, “I guess that it’s possible, but that would not happen because that is nasty and I’m not like that.”
The man agreed that the act was “possible” in the factual sense that he and the minor victim were not 500 miles away from each other on the night in question. The officer then went to the trial and testified, “I asked the defendant whether he molested that little girl and he nodded his head up and down and said that it was possible. He can’t remember for certain, but he believes that he might have done it.” The officer suggests that anything possible is also “probable.” The fact that there was no forensic evidence to support such an act was lost on the jury, and the man was convicted for the offense. This jury verdict might as well have read, “guilty of guessing.”
The Forty Fact Fraud: A woman insisted on going into an interrogation without an attorney. The interrogating officer asked questions that were nearly a half-page long. The officer packed nearly forty facts into the question and then asked, “Yes or no?” When the woman nodded her head up and down, the officer interpreted that to mean that she accepted the entire statement as true, but the woman’s agreement was merely that the officer had gotten the story basically right – she didn’t know that this was considered an admission of all of the extra tucked-in facts. At trial, the officer gave the jury the impression that the woman had specifically agreed with each individual fact, and did not reveal how the facts were snuck into a three-paragraph question. (And of course, if the woman had broken down the questions into a lengthy explanation rather than provide a Yes or No answer, the officer would have testified that she was being “evasive.”)
The Revision Rip-off: An officer told a defendant that he must have had his timeline wrong, because a toll gate camera proved that he passed over a bridge at a very specific time. The defendant – not aware that the officer can lie to him – did his best to revise his timeline to conform to this “known fact.” The defendant thought that he and the officer were “figuring it out together,” because he did not know that the officer was lying the entire time.
At trial, the officer testified that “when I confronted the defendant about his whereabouts, he admitted that he originally lied about his timeline.” It was never revealed that the officer lied about the toll gate, and the toll gate footage never came out – the officer never revealed the twisted context that resulted in the defendant trying to retrace his steps. The timeline was not even material to the case; the officer just wanted to be able to say that he had caught the man in a lie.
The Polygraph Pinch: An officer invited a man to take a polygraph test and said, “What is the harm? The results of the lie detector aren’t admissible anyway. You will be ruled out as a suspect if you pass.” The results of the test were inconclusive, and the officer used the semi-incriminating statements from the polygraph test to harass the man for nearly a year before the charges were finally dismissed.
The results of a polygraph test are not admissible, but the statements made during the test are admissible. The police cannot show that you failed, but you also cannot show the jury that you passed! (And by the way, you will not “pass” the test; it will always show up as “inconclusive” when the results are in your favor.)
The Sex Sells Scam: A defendant accused of having intimate relations with a minor had been sitting in jail and hadn’t seen a woman for over a week. Although a lawyer had been appointed to represent him, an attractive, nice-smelling female polygraph administrator said she had come “just to visit him,” and remarked what a shame it was that they wouldn’t be able to spend some time together. He gladly waived his right to have his attorney present as the female officer touched the defendant’s hands, smiled at him, and used suggestive language about how good-looking the defendant was. She later made statements about how “lucky that girl was to be with such a handsome man.”
Later, the agent “got hot” during the interrogation and removed her jacket. This foolish defendant thought the female officer was genuinely attracted to him. He learned, however, that if he did not flirt back with her, or go along with her sexual suggestions, the officer would clam up and say, “Well, maybe we just need to take this polygraph test and I need to get out of here.” As long as he played along with her dirty talk, she continued to pour on the sugar. Naturally, she was secretly recording him as he responded to her sexual questioning.
Although this female was qualified to conduct polygraph tests, she enjoyed concluding her “test” by bragging to other officers how “she never even turned on the machine.” (Instead, she turned on the defendant.) Later, the prosecutor edited out this agent’s inappropriate discussions from the interrogation. The prosecutor also tried to make sure that the agent wasn’t available to testify at the trial, and only wanted to introduce the defendant’s statements. It took a special defense motion to get the entire conversation between the officer and the defendant, rather than just the defendant’s “confessions.”
Note: Even after you’ve hired an attorney, the police can continue to try to get you to talk to them. It is your right to have an attorney present – but you can waive that right, which is an incredibly dumb thing to do. I always give my clients permission to use me as an excuse for why they can’t attend a police interview – they say, “I wanted to come visit, but my lawyer won’t let me.” The police may not like it, but they must respect it.
The Off-the-Record Ruse: When you go to the police station voluntarily, the police do not have to read you the Miranda warning, so do not think that your words are “off the record.” Even if you convince them to turn off a recorder, they can always testify to what they heard come out of your mouth. “Off the record” does not exist! You and the interrogating officer do not have a “gentlemen’s agreement” – even if the officer “really liked you” and saw that “you are the real victim here.” This is all just the good cop routine.
The Privacy Ploy: A young adult is in the police department’s “interview room” (interrogation room). The officer calls the young man’s mom and tries to get the mom to guilt the boy into confessing. The boy asks if the officers can leave the room so that he can talk to his mom privately.
The officer smiles and says, “Absolutely” … because there is a secret camera and microphone hidden in the wall clock! At trial, the police insist that the boy should not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the footage is used against him.
Perhaps these officers have good intentions, but their games are more about trying to outsmart a nervous suspect than getting to the truth. Remember that a false confession not only incarcerates the wrong person; it allows the guilty person to go free! Even people who are tough on crime should want to get the right results.
You will get your chance to tell the truth later – on the stand.
Tell the jury directly what happened if you want to explain … but until then, zip it!