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Should I Answer The Officer’s Questions? 0 + 0 = 0

by | Mar 25, 2014 | Criminal Law, Howard County Criminal Defense

As most of you probably know, Shapiro Zwanetz & Associates (SZA) has an after hours emergency phone line. This allows us to not only to assist our clients when in the midst of police interactions, but to also be able to track the most common “emergency” questions people ask when in the heat of the moment. Ranking on the top of this list is, “should I answer the officer’s questions?” Thankfully, the answer is simple, straightforward, and ALWAYS the same — NO! A police officer’s job is to obtain evidence and then to use said evidence to charge people with crimes. Anything a person says can and will be used as evidence. Thus, saying nothing will always help a suspect, as saying nothing will amount to nothing. Nothing can ever amount to something. In all forms of arithmetic, zero plus zero will always equal zero.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should not talk to the police:

REASON #1: Talking to the police CANNOT help you. If the police are talking to you, it is most likely because they suspect you have committed a crime. If they have detained you, it is most likely because they already have enough evidence to arrest you, but instead they want to see if you will admit it, thereby giving them an even stronger case against you. If they have evidence to arrest you for a crime, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. Talking to them or not talking to them will make difference! No one has ever “talked his way out of” an arrest, and if you deny that you committed the crime, they will not believe you. They’ll assume you’re just doing what they believe every criminal does — denying the offense. Contrary to popular belief, it will not prevent you from getting arrested. For some reason, many people think that they are savvy enough, eloquent enough, or well educated enough to be able to talk to the police and convince the police not to arrest them. But ask any police officer if because of the eloquence and convincing story of the suspect, they have ever been convinced not to arrest somebody they had originally intended to arrest, and they will tell you “no.” They will tell you that in their experience, no one has ever talked themselves out of getting arrested. Talking to the police cannot help you. It cannot prevent you from getting arrested. It can only hurt.

REASON #2: Even if you’re guilty and you want to confess and get it off your chest, there is a time and place for that. That time is not while being interrogated. People plead guilty in America every day. Over 90% of defendants in state court probably plead guilty. There is plenty of time to confess and admit guilt. What’s the rush? Contact Shapiro Zwanetz & Associates (SZA) or some other law firm first. Let your lawyer set up a deal to ensure get something in exchange for accepting responsibility for the offense: a better plea bargain, or maybe even immunity. If you confess to the police, you get nothing in return. Zero. In fact, you probably get a harsher prosecution because the state’s case is now so strong they lack the incentive to foster a compromise.

REASON #3: Even if you are innocent, it’s easy to make statements that make you look guilty. This kind of thing happens all the time. A person who is completely innocent and is trying to vehemently assert their innocence will go overboard and deny some insignificant fact or tell some little lie, because they want to sound as innocent as possible. But if the police have evidence of that lie, it makes your entire statement look like a lie. The prosecutor will ask, “Why did he lie to the police? Why indeed would he lie to the police, unless he were guilty?”
That little white lie could then be used to destroy your credibility at trial.
An example would be a man who is questioned about a murder. He is, in fact, innocent, so he denies everything. He denies the killing. He denies being in the area where the killing occurred. He denies owning a gun and denies ever having owned a gun. But it turns out that this last statement is not true, and the police can prove it. He did at one time during his life own a gun. Now he has told a lie and the police have caught him. Although he is innocent of the murder, he has told a lie that will be used to destroy him.

REASON #4: Even if you are innocent and you only tell the truth, it is possible to give the police some detail that can be used to convict you. For example, a suspect is being questioned about a murder. He is truly innocent of the murder, but in the course of explaining his innocence, he mentions that he never liked the victim because the victim was a jerk. A statement like that could be used to prove motive. Or in the course of the statement, the suspect might admit that he was in the area of town where the murder was committed at the time it was committed. Although he’s innocent and this statement is true, the prosecutor could use it to suggest that the suspect had the opportunity to commit the crime.

REASON #5: Even if you were innocent, and you only tell the truth, and you don’t give the police any information that can be used against you to prove motive or opportunity, you still should not talk to the police because of the very likely possibility that they might not recall your statement with 100% accuracy. What if the police officer remembers something wrong? What if he remembers you said “A” when actually you said “B”? If the police officer takes the witness stand and contradicts your statements at trial, you are sunk. You can take the witness stand and say, “I never said that!” But it’s your word versus the word of a mighty police officer — a police officer in a shiny suit with a badge and a gun. Who will the jury believe is lying because he’s really guilty? You guessed it. YOU!

REASON #6: Even if you’re innocent and you only tell the truth, and your entire statement is videotaped or recorded, you can still make some innocent assumption about a fact or state some detail about the case, and the police will assume that they only way you could have known that fact or that detail would be if you were, in fact, guilty. Example: Suppose a police officer is questioning a suspect about a homicide and the suspect makes the statement, “I don’t know who killed the victim. I’ve never owned a gun in my life.” On it’s face, there’s nothing inculpatory about that statement. But suppose at trial, the prosecutor asks the police officer if anything about that statement surprised him. The police officer answers, “Yes, it surprised me when the suspect mentioned a gun, because I had never mentioned a gun. I merely told him that I was investigating a murder.”
The suspect may have overheard in the police station some other officer talk about the fact that it was a shooting. But if the officer taking the statement had never mentioned a gun or a shooting and the suspect makes the statement that he had never owned a gun, you give the prosecution the opportunity to create some high drama, suggesting you had a Freudian slip, and made a statement about a gun because you are, in fact, the murderer.

REASON #7: Even if you’re innocent and you only tell the truth in your statement and give the police no information that can be used against you, and the whole statement is recorded, your answers can still be used against you. Suppose the police have a statement from a witness who claims to have seen the suspect in the area where the crime was committed. Suppose further that this witness is actually wrong, but has made an honest mistake. The suspect then gives a statement to the police in which he says he was nowhere near the area where the crime took place at the time of the incident. By giving the statement, the suspect has now created a conflict between his own statement and the statement of this witness. By itself, the statement of the witness that he or she saw the suspect in the area at the time the crime was committed is not that useful. But by giving this statement and creating a conflict with this witness’s statement, the suspect has now made this relatively minor witness into the government’s star witness. The jury will hear the conflict and will assume that the suspect is lying and wonder why.

REASON #8: The police do not have authority to make deals or grant a suspect leniency in exchange for getting as statement, but they do have authority to lie and say they do. People tell me all the time that they gave a statement to the police because the police told them that they would be better off if they confessed. The police will make vague statements that things will go easier on the suspect if he simply admits what he did wrong. The police will also make vague statements suggesting they will do what they can to help the suspect — they will put in a good word for the suspect, if the suspect will just come clean. Number One thing to remember: The police do not have authority to make deals, grant immunity, or negotiate plea agreements. The only entity with that authority is the State’s Attorney in state court and the U.S. Attorney in federal court. Despite their claim that they are trying to help you, the only help police are providing when they take your statement is giving you rope with which you can hang yourself.

REASON #9: Even if a suspect is guilty and wants to confess, there may be mitigating factors that justify a lesser charge. Police rarely bring out mitigating factors in an interview. Normally, they want to focus on the facts that will suggest the suspect has committed the most severe crime possible. In fact, the suspect may have committed a lesser grade of offense. And if given the opportunity to talk to an attorney first, the attorney may be able to explain to the suspect what facts are important in establishing that he is guilty of a lesser grade of an offense. A confession presented in this context to the State’s Attorney’s office might result in a lesser charge and a more appropriate and fair penalty.

REASON #10: Even for a completely honest and innocent person, it is difficult to tell the same story twice in exactly the same way. If you tell your story one time at trial and you tell the truth and you’re innocent, there’s very little the prosecutor can do by way of cross-examination. But if you’ve told your story twice, once at trial, and once previously in a statement to the police, many months apart, the chances are very high that, even if you are telling the truth, some little details in your statement are going to change. A good cross examiner will pick up on these changes and will relentlessly question you about them in an effort to make it look like you are lying. So for all these reasons, whether you are guilty or innocent, whether you want to confess or want to exonerate yourself, whether you’re poorly educated or the most eloquent speaker in the world, you should NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances, give a statement to the police when you have been detained as a suspect.

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