Criminal Law Advice
Attorney Lauren Thomas from Sinsheimer & Associates provides her weekly Criminal Law Advice.
The re are a few exceptions to the rule that you should never talk to the police. Read her to learn what they are.
While my default answer is always “Don’t say anything to the police ever,” I should elaborate because there are a few times that talking to the police is the right thing to do. Whenever the police want to talk to you, the first question you should ask yourself is:
“Why do they want to talk to me?”
If the answer to this question is that you are the victim of a crime and they need information from you to catch the person who hurt you; then, by all means, talk to the police. The more information that you give them, the better chance you have of recovering for any losses and seeing to it that the right person is caught and prosecuted for the crime.
If the answer to this question is that you are a witness to a crime and you would like to assist in capturing the person who committed the crime; then, again, by all means, talk to the police. The more information you can provide, the better chance that the police will be able to find the person who committed the crime. Be aware that any participation at this stage may mean that down the road you will be summonsed to give testimony in a trial against the person accused of committing the crime.
If the answer to this question is that an incident occurred between members of your family or friends; then you will want to think very hard about whether you want to talk to the police. Anything that you say to the police has the potential of being used against the person who is arrested. For example, say mom gets in a verbal argument with her seventeen year old son. Son starts to threaten violence. Dad steps in the middle and grabs son by the shoulders, forcefully escorts him out on the room and sits him down in another room for a time out. The police arrive to investigate because a neighbor heard yelling and called 911. If mom tells the police exactly what is described above, dad could be arrested for assault and battery for placing his hands on son and pushing son out of the room. This is clearly a defensible case and dad would likely win at trial; however, does your family really want to be dragged through a trial?
However, if you are the victim of domestic abuse; then you should talk to the police to keep yourself safe. Get a restraining order and do not allow the person who hurt you to ever get close to you again. When people you know are involved it is difficult to know what to do. It is usually better to err on the side of caution and say nothing. You can always go to the police station at a later date and make a formal statement.
If the answer to this question is that the police are investigating a crime; then you probably don’t want to talk to them right away until you have more information about why they believe you have information about this crime. You may know that you are innocent and, therefore, believe that it can not hurt to talk to them so that the police get the story straight. Be careful. As the news and history can attest, many an innocent person has been convicted. Be wary. Ask for more information. Consult with an attorney. Don’t agree to go to the police station. Instead, set up an appointment and arrange to have an attorney go with you.
If the answer to this question is that you are the target of an investigation, then NEVER, under any circumstances, talk to the police. Immediately hire an attorney and let your attorney do the talking. No matter how good you think you are, you can not say anything that will help you.
You may say, “Well, doesn’t it make me look guilty if I don’t say anything?” Guess what. You will look more guilty if you do say something. Police are trained in interrogation. They are trained to try to get you to use the wrong words. Nothing good ever comes of talking to the police if you are already in their cross hairs.
The best thing to remember is, when in doubt, don’t talk to the police—talk to a lawyer. Many lawyers will provide a free initial consultation. Respectable lawyers will most likely be willing to advise you for free as to whether it is safe to talk to the police alone. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from a different lawyer. Some lawyers are only out to cheat you out of a buck. They will try to scare you into hiring them to represent you when you may not need representation.
In the chance that you do decide to talk to the police without a lawyer, remember, if at any point you feel uncomfortable, you have a constitutional right to stop and ask for a lawyer.