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Talking to the Police
Dear Mr. Tabibnia,
I’ve recently been contacted by a police detective and informed that they would like me to come down to the police station and speak to them regarding a crime that recently took place around my home. Even though I have nothing to hide, I’m still scared, and my friends tell me that I should talk to an attorney first. What should I do.
Whether or not you have anything to hide, you should NEVER talk to the police. And if, for some reason, you really want to talk to them, anyway, you should always go accompanied with a lawyer. Here are the reasons:
1. TALKING TO THE POLICE CANNOT HELP YOU
I can’t emphasize this point enough.
Often, people believe, wrongly, that if they just talk to the police, then they can convince the police of their innocence or otherwise have the police show appreciation for their honesty and drop any case against them. This rarely, if ever, is the case.
Think about it. If the police want to talk to you, it’s because they suspect that you have committed a crime. So why haven’t they arrested you already? Often, it’s because they don’t have enough evidence to arrest you, and are hoping that YOU provide them with the evidence they need to charge you with a crime. Simply put, if the police have enough evidence to put you under arrest for a crime, they will. If they don’t have enough evidence, they won’t.
There are also times when the police have enough evidence for an arrest but will have you talk to them so that they can gather MORE evidence, in order to ensure that they can convict you in court.
2. EVEN IF YOU’RE GUILTY, AND WANT TO CONFESS, YOU STILL SHOULD NOT TALK TO THE POLICE
Why? Consider that over 90% of criminal cases result in a plea deal; that means that the defendant ends up voluntarily taking a plea offer to plead guilty in court. A seasoned lawyer will know how to investigate and analyze the case against you and see if the government has sufficient evidence for a conviction. If there is enough evidence, your lawyer will be able to negotiate the terms of a fair plea deal. But, by rushing to “confess” to the police before a case has even been filed, you get NOTHING in return. In fact, you’re handicapping yourself and your attorney, and making it more likely that the prosecution will pursue more harsh terms against you.
Not least, there could be mitigating factors to consider for a “guilty” suspect. For instance, the suspect may have committed a less serious offense than the one the police are accusing him of. A capable attorney will work to ensure that the defendant plead guilty to a less serious charge and more fair penalty, in court.
3. EVEN IF YOU’RE INNOCENT, IT’S VERY EASY TO SAY SOMETHING TO THE
POLICE THAT CAN HURT YOU.
I’ve had experience with innocent clients who, in their eagerness to prove their innocence, go overboard, and misstate a fact or intentionally tell a so-called “white lie” that comes back to harm them later.
For instance, let’s assume that you’re questioned about being involved in a shooting that results in serious injuries to a victim. You’re innocent. You deny everything. You deny being at the scene of the crime and deny that you’ve ever even owned a gun. But a police investigation reveals that you have owned a gun in the past. Now, the police have caught you in a lie (or just a mistake) and the prosecutor can now use that information to question your credibility and suggest that you lied about the gun because you are guilty of crime or of some wrongdoing related to the crime.
4. IF YOU ARE INNOCENT, EVEN TRUTHFUL INFORMATION YOU GIVE TO
THE POLICE CAN POTENTIALLY BE USED AGAINST YOU
Let’s assume that you’re innocent of a murder. But under questioning by the police, you answer, honestly, that you were in the area where the crime took place. You also say, truthfully, that you just didn’t like the victim. Even though you may be innocent, the prosecution could use your honest admissions to prove motive and suggest, by circumstantial evidence or otherwise, that you also had the opportunity to commit the crime.
5. EVEN IF YOU’RE INNOCENT, THE POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT THE POLICE WILL MAKE A MISTAKE AS TO THEIR RECOLLECTION OF YOUR CONVERSATION
Like everyone else, police make mistakes all the time. I’ve seen it countless times in my practice. Even if you’re honest and do NOT implicate yourself in a crime, there is the danger that the police will testify inaccurately at trial – by mistake or otherwise – about what you said, potentially implicating you in wrongdoing. And who do you think the jury is more likely to believe. You or the police?
6. THE POLICE DO NOT RETAIN ANY AUTHORITY TO MAKE DEALS
OR SHOW LENIENCY TO A SUSPECT
I’ve had clients tell me that they agreed to speak with the police in the hopes that the police would appreciate their honesty and either show them “leniency” or otherwise not pursue a case against them. Often, this is because police make vague promises that they are trying to “help” the suspect, and that things will be easier if he/she just admits what they did wrong.
In reality, the police do not have any authority to negotiate agreements, present immunity or give any sort of deals to a suspect. Only a prosecutor has that power.
7. EVEN IF YOU ARE COMPLETELY INNOCENT, IT IS USUALLY
DIFFICULT TO TELL THE SAME STORY TWICE IN EXACTLY THE SAME.
Even if you’re innocent and telling the truth, recounting the story twice, once to the police and a second time in court, months later, runs the risk that you will make mistakes. The prosecutor may use any disparity between these two stories to argue that you’re lying because you’re guilty of the underlying crime.
Don’t allow the police to give you rope to hang yourself. Never talk to the police. And if you have to, consult with a lawyer first.