Everyone knows the line “you have got the right to remain silent” – its part of the “Miranda Warnings” that officers say to suspects after they’ve been arrested. When an average citizen says that you shouldn’t talk to the police, he’s thinking of that kind of situation — where a guy is handcuffed and leaning against a patrol car with red and blue lights flashing in the background.
It’s easy to keep your mouth shut under those circumstances . . . but that’s normally not when a suspect talks.
Most people accused of crimes, especially serious felonies, aren’t under arrest when they first encounter law enforcement. They will get a phone call from an investigator, or a laid back invitation from an officer trying to “figure out what’s going on” or who “just wants to hear your side of the story.” These law enforcement professionals will sound friendly, relaxed, and helpful. They will assure the suspect that there are no charges pending, that no one’s under arrest, and that all they want to do is talk.
But be assured, the statements you make to an officer in an informal context are just as admissible in court as the ones you make after being arrested and read your “Miranda Rights.” When these officers are talking to you, they have only one goal in mind: making an arrest that will stick.
So here’s five practical reasons why telling your side of the story to the police may be a BAD IDEA:
- You don’t have to admit wrong doing to get yourself in trouble – even if you adamantly deny the accusations made against you, small, innocent inconsistencies in your account will be used against you by the police and the prosecutor. There’s a good chance that if you tell “your side of the story” to an investigator that you will make a small mistake that comes back to bite you.
- Confession equals no leverage for a plea – even if you know you’ve made a mistake and don’t want to fight the charges, there’s no reason to confess to law enforcement. Let your attorney negotiate a fair plea for you. Talking to the police just gives the prosecutor a stronger case and a stronger negotiating position.
- Cops are cynical – there are a lot of great, hardworking law enforcement professionals out there, but most of them have “heard it all before,” meaning they will be deeply skeptical of anything you say. I’ve never seen a suspected person’s statement to the police, by itself, lead to the rejection or dismissal of a case. If you have exonerating information, turn it over to your defense attorney so that the information can be presented carefully to the prosecutor or investigator.
- Words have more than one meaning – I once had a client charged with assaulting his child who told the police “my daughter never lies.” He meant that his daughter had always been an honest person, and that if she was accusing him of hurting her, then it was because another person had influenced or intimidated her into making up the accusation. But the prosecutor took this statement to be a confession, and so did the investigator. Suffice it to say, my job would have been a lot easier if my client had kept quiet and let ME talk to the prosecutor about the accuser’s credibility and motivations.
- Cops are not your friends – I know a lot of police officers, and I consider some of them to be good friends. But they are not YOUR friends, at least not when there is an open investigation. Their attempts to chat with you, their friendly small talk, and their easy-going attitude are all part of a carefully calibrated effort to get you to make an admission or mistake. These guys are TRAINED to get you to talk. Don’t be fooled by the “good cop” routine.
As always, you should seek the advice of a knowledgable attorney before making any decisions in a specific criminal matter, especially since the facts of every case are different. But remember that it’s never a crime to exercise your constitutional right to remain silent.