You come home from work. Wedged between your front door and the door frame is a little white business card. You reach up and pull the business card out, expecting it to be the usual solicitation junk. This business card is different. This business card is from a police detective. This police detective wants to talk to you.
You call the number on the card and a curt, male voice answers. The police detective wants to schedule a time for you to come to the police station. He is being vague and will not tell you exactly what this is about. Being polite and not wanting to look like you have something to hide, you schedule to meet the detective the next day at the police station. You hang up the phone and immediately start wondering what you should do. A feeling of dread starts to creep over you. Maybe you have an idea of what the detective wants to question you about. Maybe you don’t. What should you do?
The only right answer in this situation is to immediately call an attorney who is experienced in dealing with the police. You should do this the minute you become aware that the police want to talk to you. I have represented many clients in this very same situation, and I have prevented many clients from ever being charged with a crime.
Whether you have a guilty conscience or not, the police very likely think you did something wrong. When the police think you did something wrong, they are only interested in gathering evidence against you. They want a confession.
The confession is the ultimate evidentiary prize in police work. A confession means that the police can close their investigation and pass the case to the prosecutor’s office. The police are very good at getting confessions. Sometimes, too good.
People often think they can go to the police station and just explain their side of the story. They think talking will just clear up “this whole misunderstanding.” The police detective may even say he wants to hear “your side of the story.” This sounds like an opportunity to be heard.
Modern police interrogation techniques are very good at getting people to incriminate themselves. They usually follow a common pattern. You are placed in a small room. There are two cameras in the upper corners of the room. After asking you if you want a bottle of water, the detective leaves you in the room alone; at least you think you are alone. In reality, you are being watched. Your body language, what you do, what you say to yourself, is all being recorded and scrutinized.
After about 20 minutes the detective comes back. His demeanor at this point is friendly. He wants you to tell him “your side of the story.” He wants you to help him clear up a “misunderstanding.” You are eager to clear this up and go home. You tell the police detective “your side of the story.” He eagerly listens and nods at all the appropriate times. You feel like things are going well. Finally, after you have said everything you need to say, the detective tells you he needs to leave the room. You are left alone, or at least with the illusion of being alone.
This is the part where the police make you sweat. You are sitting in the room alone with your thoughts. Your emotions and thoughts run together. Fear: do they believe me? Uncertainty: when am I going to be able to leave this place? Self-doubt: maybe I did do something wrong? Meanwhile, the cameras and microphones watch and record.
30 minutes pass. The police detective comes back. He has some additional questions for you. His demeanor has changed. His body language and tone of voice communicate that he does not believe what you told him. Your explanation starts all over again. This time he is not nodding at all the right parts. Now he is glaring at you with his arms crossed. Fear and dread rise up within you. You feel the cool wetness of the sweat on your scalp and in your underarms. This is not going as you thought it would.
As children, it is ingrained in us to always tell the truth. That the truth will set you free. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system does not reward you for truth. Sometimes the only right answer is to remain silent.
You have a Constitutional right to remain silent. That means that you cannot be forced to answer questions that could be used as evidence of a crime against you. It also means your silence cannot be used as evidence against you. We have all heard the Miranda warnings on television and in the movies. The decision of whether or not to talk to the police is a decision that you should never make without the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Sometimes, talking to the police is the correct thing to do. If that is the case, having an attorney at your side during police questioning prevents the police from using coercive interrogation tactics.
Other times, remaining silent may be the best legal strategy. If this is the case, a criminal defense attorney can shield you from the police and do all the communication for you. You will not have to worry about the police persistently harassing you, trying to get you to come in and talk.
A third possibility is that the matter should be addressed directly with the prosecuting attorney, skipping over the police department entirely. Oftentimes this means denying the police the opportunity to interrogate you, but making you available to the grand jury.
These are complicated decisions for an experienced attorney to make. They are impossible decisions for a lay person to make on their own, especially while experiencing the flood of emotions that come with scrutiny by the police.
You should not wait until you have a court date to contact an attorney. As soon as you are aware that you are under investigation, it is time to lawyer up.